The Briton’s Protection - Manchester
It was a dreary afternoon in Manchester when I arrived at the sign of the Briton’s Protection. Intermittent bouts of torrential rain had washed the streets of pedestrian traffic and I had walked a great many deserted pavements in search of this pub. It sits between some of the city’s most widely recognised features; in the shadow of Beetham tower it looks upon the GMEX whilst being flanked by the Bridgewater hall. Despite its crowning position I felt like I had left the familiar cobbles of Castlefields and entered an urban labyrinth of dim side streets and tunnels to reach it. Only when I realised that I was stood before it did I notice that I had emerged into the beating heart of Deansgate.
The whitewashed exterior was adorned with fresh flowers yet the windows were dark and the door shut. I imagined that perhaps I had arrived too early as it was no later than three o’clock. Tentatively I gave the door a slight push and to my surprise it yielded. A perplexingly small and seemingly empty room was revealed as I eased the door wide and I allowed only my head to pass the threshold on a mission of reconnaissance. Before me was a bar no more than two meters from the front wall and through the gloom I could perceive no sound. I was about to allow the door to close and be on my way when a confident voice seemingly beside my left ear said “Don’t be nervous love, come in!” The suddenness and proximity of the imperative made me start and I immediately acquiesced. I found the source to be an older woman sat upon the bench seating next to the door. She reclined comfortably and was accompanied by a small dog who sat on the seat beside her. I explained that I was unsure whether they had opened but she waved off my reservations and pointed me in the direction of a young man behind the bar who I had completely failed to notice.
I allowed my eyes to drift around the room and something simply didn’t add up. The room was long and narrow and completely out of proportion with how the pub appeared from the outside. I didn’t dwell on this inverse Tardis for too long as there was a matter of beer to be settled. I fine array of pumps sat along the bar and most sported cask (There were a couple of commercial beers but these were clearly not the pub’s focus). I ordered a pint of Jennings whilst admiring the whisky collection which was more extensive than the bar had room to accommodate. My pint was neither cheap nor expensive, falling slightly short of three pounds. It was perhaps slightly more than I would expect to pay for Jennings yet being in the centre of Manchester I would certainly not complain over a matter of pennies.
I received my pint from the cheerful bar tender and began considering my next move. Only the three of us stood in the room and whereas the silence was not hostile or insular, I personally do not enjoy oppressively quiet pubs. My eyes glanced a door at the far end of the room wedged open and I considered that it may lead to a beer garden. Taking time to spill the head of my pint on the old tile floor (which makes a catastrophic noise by the way) I made for the passage. Subdued orange lights illuminated the space which snaked sharply. The narrow, wood panelled corridor was furnished at its corners with high tables and ornate, ancient wooden doors led off at intervals. A hatch opened in the panelling which connected the passage to the bar from which I had come and I chose a table placed besides this to gather my thoughts and enjoy my drink.
As you might imagine, the layout of this pub is perhaps its most striking feature and I adored it. The place is mysterious and drips with character. Standing in its occupation for 200 years (just gone) the building feels like it has changed little during that time. The walls and floors are of period tile and the wooden fixtures are worn with age. I couldn’t help but notice that the ladies toilets still sport a suspended saloon style door. Vintage cigarette cards and posters hung in frames and the silence was occasionally broken by the cacophonic crash the front door makes whenever it swings closed. One doorway stood open and displayed the word ‘lounge’. The room was small with a central fireplace surrounded by old furniture. Old bell buttons are still fitted into the panelling which runs around the perimeter. Another door that I could see stood closed, signed only with a brass number three.
Whilst I sat admiring the aesthetics I had been casually listening to the front room through the hatch beside me. I had deduced from conversation that the old woman with the dog was part of the staff and perhaps the manager. Other people had entered too and each had demonstrated great familiarity with those already there and those who arrived later. The conversation was bright and I was humoured when during a slight lull the old woman offered a chocolate biscuit to anyone listening to which the whole room erupted. Of course the dynamic was alien to me but I was imbued with the sense that if I were to make myself a regular, I would be absorbed immediately.
I hold no great fondness for Manchester as a city but whilst I sat over my second pint (a zesty pale beer named ‘Voyager’, possibly from the Hornbeam brewery) I couldn’t help but reflect upon an identity that I regard with great admiration. Manchester is a very metropolitan, modern British city which has embraced progress in its bosom and this forms its identity. Manchester is also a city born from the industrial revolution, which embraces its heritage and holds on to both this idea and the architecture which grew it; this for Manchester is its identity. Aren’t these two ideas irreconcilable? Perhaps In almost every other city or town from the same era but Manchester has singularly achieved it in glorious fashion. Beetham tower is a glass monolith home to the Hilton hotel, luxury city apartments and prime office space. Its ultra-modern feet stand amidst great red-brick rail arches and cobbled streets. Vast iron work and sprawling Victorian warehouses stand beside glass and chrome. Red mill buildings with their smoke stacks still standing house modern apartments and finance offices. These two identities have not mixed but have infused. Sat within the tiled walls of the Briton’s Protection I looked through the front window to the GMEX and luxury car dealerships across the road and was reminded of what the city has achieved.
The Briton’s Protection is mysterious, it is original, it is enigmatic and it is fantastic. Its beer selection is ample and its prices are reasonable. Its staff and clientele are indistinguishable and for it the pub is all the more inviting. You will be made to feel welcome and for the more experimental drinkers there is plenty on offer besides the beer (especially if you fancy yourself as a whisky connoisseur). Perhaps best of all it is a microcosm of the city it’s stood in for centuries.
50 Great Bridgewater Street,
0871 230 2210
Fri-Sat 11am- 12.00am