Every October a glut of articles are spewed onto the virtual carpet of cyberspace from various cultural blogs and local news institutions, listing Manchester's “Most Haunted Pubs”. Normally we'd just let these editorials pass us by, but this year, we got to thinking... is there any truth to any of these wild poltergeist proclamations? Surely it can't be possible that every single time-honoured and storied drinking hole is plagued by spooks and spectres?
We had to know for certain, so we loaded up our proton packs (and the company credit card) and headed out on a courageous sojourn to see if there are in fact are any ghosts to be found in these old haunts (no pun intended).
First up on our crusade, The Castle Hotel.
This place has been going since the 18th century, and still features the very same ceramic bar that once served the punters of 1776.
“Old? Yes. Haunted? Unlikely” we scoffed. The only spooky thing we encountered here were these lads' daft grimaces.
From The Castle, we proudly marched into The Crown and Kettle, confident we wouldn't cross paths with any ghouls this evening.
Although that being said, we weren't about to come out ill-prepared. This book comes highly-recommended by all self-respecting ghost hunters.
At this point, we'd had enough beer to actually start chatting to members of the public. According to one member of the bar staff, while nothing explicitly supernatural has ever been recorded here, there is a bricked-off archway in the cellar, supposedly leading directly to Strangeways prison. Plausible, considering that before 1734 The Crown and Kettle was a court house, but under scrutiny this local legend falls apart – Strangeways didn't welcome its first guests until 1869. Better luck next time scare-merchants!
Onwards to The Angel, where the evening took its first turn for the macabre during a pre-pint ramble around Angel Meadow.
Despite its celestial moniker, Angel Meadow was once the largest cemetery in Manchester, used essentially as a mass grave for the city's many paupers. It's estimated there's around 40,000 cadavers buried at Angel Meadow, a fair few of which came from a nearby orphanage. Hence the name 'Angel'. Jheeze.
This sombre factoid clearly didn't perturb these numpters however.
We thought that'd be the only piping-hot bowl of Dready Brek we'd be munching on that evening, but we were wrong. Barely had we sat down before a fella named Gary bolted over to us, clearly having spied our ghost hunting manual. We asked him if he thought The Angel was haunted. His response?
“All the old pubs are. I should know – I can see 'em.”
We knew Gary was the real deal and not just a pissed-up weirdo when he whipped out a necklace, adorned with all manner of antique charms and trinkets.
“These are to protect me... in case a horrible one takes a disliking to me” he said solemnly.
We thanked Gary for his invaluable knowledge, quickly finished our pints and left The Angel with our tails between our legs.
The vibe on the way to The Lower Turk's Head was decidedly uneasy. Gary's information had clearly done a number on us. We thought the best method of avoiding a proper frightening was to amp up the drinking. Barkeep, eight of your finest pints please.
Nowt scary about The Lower Turk's head though. Joseph Holt's slimy tendrils have all but stripped this place of any edge or character. After a bit of pestering, we did learn that this place once used to be a hotspot for Scuttler gangs: rowdy youths from working-class neighbourhoods that terrorised Manchester with incessant brawling.
“Reckon there's any of their ghosts knocking about here?” we asked one dejected-looking bartender.
“No” he replied.
Nothing haunted here, just some well-needed greasy sustenance.
Our experience at The Old Turk's Head and the pizza-inspired matter we'd just consumed had dampened our excitement somewhat. We entered The Old Wellington sluggishly, and quickly retreated to the darkest, quietest corner of the pub.
We fuelled up on a few more tall glasses of yeast soup, before grilling another unfortunate bartender for spooky stories. This was a mistake.
“You guys should leave well enough alone” he said, in a sober and panicked tone “go home, get to bed and banish this evening from your mind.”
“Nah... don't be at it. Tell us” we retorted cleverly.
What he said next chilled us to our very core. He told us that hearing voices on the top floor (the very floor we were sat on!) isn't a rare occurrence, and that the Guinness tap inexplicably turns itself off every night. A Guinness-hating ghoul? That's the stuff that nightmares are made of.
“Where are you guys heading next?” he asked.
“I used to work there” he paused to collect himself, his eyes wide and grave. The anticipation was killing us. We were about to press him further, before he blurted out: “Go home... while you still can.”
By the time we reached The Oxnoble, beer fear was nearing fever pitch.
Can you blame us? This is hardly the most inviting facade. If Bram Stoker had designed a Wetherspoons, it'd probably look like this.
Fortunately, our jitters were baseless – inside was hardly eerie. Just another neutered chain pub in a historic building. Well and truly for the birds.
“Maybe the geezer at The Old Wellington was just having us on?” we said to each other arrogantly.
How wrong we were. As we cockily exited The Oxnoble, this is the sight that greeted us.
It would appear, beer goggles not withstanding, that we'd somehow pried open the gates of hell. Our legs span into indeterminate circles, cartoon-style, and we made for the hills like a gaggle of yellow-bellies.
It took us a good few minutes to realise that these bedevilled flames were the result of demolition works, and not a portal to the great inferno. These chaps were very helpful in explaining that to us.
At long last, we arrived at our Final Destination 2 – The Pevril of the Peak, perhaps Manchester's best boozer? Certainly one of the most eye-catching.
This place dates back to the early 18th century, its interiors still mostly unchained. The foosball table is the oldest one still in use in the UK too, dating back to 1955.
Of course, all this antiquity inevitably leads to questions of the supernatural, but at this point in the evening, we could care less. Enough of ghoulies and ghastlies! We wanted to sink into the upholstery, sip refreshing Euro pilsners until the early hours and forget all about the terrifying tales we'd heard over the course of the evening.
But it was too late. The die had been cast. It was obvious that a curse had been cast somewhere on our journey (we drunkenly demanded that the bar staff tell us if they'd seen owt spooky again).
These lads were very accommodating in matters of the macabre. Plenty of occult activity happens at the bar, with glasses being known to fly off the shelves seemingly on their own volition, but it's the cellar that's the real paranormal hotspot.
“There's some freeeeaky shit going on down there man. I don't wanna be anywhere near that place.”
“Innit... can we go down?” we asked, like the morons we are.
“It's your ass man.”
That's the last thing we all remember. What happened in the cellar? We honestly don't know. The lumps on the back of our heads suggest we may have slipped down some rickety stairs and gave ourselves concussions, and the dry mouth/sore head combinations the next day could imply we simply had too much to drink... that's slander, straight up.
After all we saw, all we learned, all the spooky stuff we felt deep down in our loins, we're now fully-fledged believers in the supernatural. How else can you explain this?
Cheers to all the pubs listed above for their hospitality.