Save Ralph – Summary So Far

Campaigns don’t happen, or work overnight. It takes weeks, months and sometimes years to succeed or indeed fail. To help keep everyone up-to-date, however, here’s what’s happened so far with the campaign to save the Sir Ralph Abercromby on Bootle Street, Manchester

Sir Ralph Abercromby


Manchester City Council (MCC) considered a report concerning an emerging Strategic Regeneration Framework for Jackson’s Row, including the Sir Ralph Abercromby pub. This set out some background (including the land pooling arrangements between the Council, developers and land owners), and some objectives and principles.

It also included a statement that the Framework…

“does not determine the future of the existing buildings on the site, including the Sir Ralph Abercromby Public House. Any decision on these buildings will be made in the light of a full assessment of the approach adopted by a future development proposal, in the context of the relevant planning policies and Historic England guidance.”


MCC considered and approved the Jackson’s Row Strategic Development Framework. The document by then was showing a garden square public open space covering the area currently occupied by the pub.

MCC had received 5 comments on the original document, one from the tenant of the Sir Ralph, expressing concern over the possible loss of the pub, emphasizing its importance to the area and asking for it to be incorporated into the pub.

Another comment was made by Historic England stating that it did not think the Framework sufficiently assessed the individual significance of existing buildings or their contribution to the conservation area [Peter St and Deansgate], and that it provided only limited reference to the heritage appraisal. It felt that the document did not sufficiently set out the significance of the place, or provide a full understanding of the significance and character of the site and its context.

In response to these comments MCC stated that they did recognize the importance of food and drink outlets and that the developer is making arrangements to meet with the tenant of the Sir Ralph to discuss the scheme proposals as they are progressed.

In relation to HE’s comments, MCC felt it had taken the heritage appraisal into account and that the SRF makes clear the contribution of the value of the existing buildings in terms of their contribution to the character and appearance of the conservation area will be carefully considered as part of emerging development options.

The decision notice published on this report states that further dialogue with business owner and Heritage England would continue as the redevelopment became more detailed.


MCC acknowledged receipt of a request by T&H CAMRA to nominate the Sir Ralph as an Asset of Community Value. Legally, the Council needed to determine this within 8 weeks, ie by 11th February 2016.


The Central Manchester Branch held its inaugural meeting taking over the administration of the pubs within the new boundaries. This included the Sir Ralph Abercromby. It was agreed between the 2 Branches that it would be best leaving the situation as was with MCC to save any confusion that this may cause with Council Officers.


MCC determined the ACV nomination and stated that the legal test in Section 88(1) of the Localism Act 2011 was not satisfied and the Sir Ralph pub is not land of community value. The key reasons given were that:

  1. The building is due for demolition under a development scheme and therefore it is not realistic to think that its current use can continue: and
  2. The building is subject to a binding contract for sale, which would be an exempt disposal under the Localism Act 2011.

When the decision was announced the Chair of the Central Manchester Branch (Graham Donning) sought advice from CAMRA head quarters as to what was the best approach for the future and also sought a meeting with the 3 Ward Councilors Peel, Knowles & Davies. Advice from CAMRA HQ was that there was currently no right of appeal against the decision made by MCC and that seeking a judicial review whilst possible was very expensive. Further advice was that we should consider submitting a new Nomination for an ACV for the Sir Ralph.


A petition was launched by John O’Donnell (T&H Chair). This now (17/04/16) has over 2,500 signatures including one from Jonathan Schofield, a well know Historian and local blogger who commented:

“Landmarks that go to the heart of what makes this city should be preserved. Especially landmarks that are useful and add variety to the life of the city. The Abercromby is more though than that. It is a rare remaining Georgian building, along with the Friends Meeting House, in the area. More importantly, again with the Friends Meeting House, it is the last witness of the Peterloo Massacre. This was an epoch changing event in 1819 and a vital stepping stone to full British democracy. To demolish it would be short-sighted and morally wrong. It would be embarrassing for a city as ambitious as Manchester.”
Jonathan Schofield, Stretford, United Kingdom


The meeting with the 3 Ward Cllrs was held on the 17th March with Mike Chistodoulou (Landlord of the SRA) present along with Graham Donning and Tim Field. Cllr Peel could not attend due to other meetings but sent a message of support. The Cllrs were surprised that MCC had rejected the ACV ion the basis that the SRA was die for demolition as they had not been consulted as Ward Cllrs nor seen any proposals for planning permission for demolition. They were going to ask the MCC Solicitor for background information and why this decision was made. They also suggested that then publicity campaign was the best way forward and they would try and seek a meeting between all interested parties and the developers to discuss possible alternatives to the demolition of the SRA.

After the meeting Graham Donning made contact with various reporters submitting documents to them to support the case for saving the pub.


As nothing had been heard from local Cllrs and on the advice from CAMRA HQ Central Manchester CAMRA submitted a fresh ACV application. The advice was to use the following wording in the pre-amble to the nomination:
In nominating the Sir Ralph Abercromby public house as an Asset of Community Value, we are of course well aware of the Council’s decision dated 3 February 2016 not to accept our previous nomination of this building. However, we are not convinced that the reasons given for declining to register the land as being of community value were reasonable or justifiable. We would therefore hope and expect that this further nomination will be considered in the light of the following comments.

The decision notice states that it is not realistic to think that there can continue to be non-ancillary use of the pub because it is in an area earmarked for regeneration under the Jackson’s Row Strategic Regeneration Framework (SRF). However, our understanding of SRFs is that they are used to establish a vision, core priorities and key objectives within which regeneration effort in an area can respond strategically. They do not in themselves grant planning permission so any development of the pub site would still require such permission. In other words, it would be premature to conclude that permission to redevelop the pub site would be forthcoming and that up and until any such decision is made a nomination to register the property as an ACV is entirely legitimate.

The decision notice also mentioned that Enterprise Inns had entered into a contract for sale of the pub. Our understanding is that this sale has not been concluded. So, if any sale does occur then any ACV would apply to them, not Enterprise. We accept, of course, that the new owners are not likely to put the property up for sale in the near future (though that is by no means impossible) but ACV status would mean that the planning restrictions imposed by recent legislation would apply to the pub. This would, for instance, mean that demolition of the pub could not take place without planning permission first being obtained. ACV status would also be a material consideration for planning purposes.

This was initially rejected by the MCC Solicitor on the basis that the pub had been sold but we had not provided information as to whom. MCC were advised that it was they who had stated, in the reasons for rejection of the original ACV, the pub had been sold and sent copies of the Land Registry search that showed Enterprise had entered into an ‘Agreement for sale’ dated 25 August 2015 had been made between Enterprise Inns PLC and Jacksons Row Developments Limited.


On the 13th April MCC accepted the Nomination and stated it would be decided on by 6th June 2016. Additionally Central Manchester received contact from the Manchester Evening News, BBC North West and Granada TV. The reason for this sudden interest was that reporters believed that the submission of a planning application for demolition of the SRA was imminent. An article appeared online on the evening of the 13th and in the paper on 14th April.

The Chair of Central Manchester Branch was interviewed on Friday 16th April and it is hoped may appear on Granada Report’s evening broadcast on TV on Monday 18th April. BBC North West have also expressed interest in an interview but no contact has been made.

3 thoughts on “Save Ralph – Summary So Far”

  1. On the 28th April a submission was accepted by Historic England to see if we can get the SRA “spot listed” – it was drawn up by CAMRA and some local interested Historians, Ian Christie and Jonathan Schofield: it is currently under consideration:
    “In September 2015 Manchester City Council Executive endorsed the principles set out in the draft Jackson’s Row – Manchester Central Strategic Regeneration Framework (SRF) and asked the Chief Executive to undertake a public consultation exercise on the draft and report back to a future meeting. The Jackson’s Row area is bounded by Southern Street to the east, Jackson Row to the north and Bootle Street to the south and lies within the Deansgate/Peter’s Street Conservation Area. It contains the Sir Ralph Abercromby pub. There are arguably three important existing buildings in this area: the 1930’s former police HQ, the Manchester Reform Synagogue and the Abercromby. While the SRF report said that provision would be made for the Synagogue by incorporating some of its ‘original fittings’ within a ‘new state of the art’ building, the future of the police station and pub was much less clear: “any decision on these buildings will be made in the light of a full assessment of the approach adopted by a future development proposal, in the context of the relevant planning policies and Historic England guidance.” Since then a CAMRA-led petition calling for the Abercromby to be saved has gathered more than 2,500 signatures. CAMRA also applied for the pub to be designated an Asset of Community Value but this was rejected by the Council on the (rather circular) grounds that the site was part of the Jackson’s Row Regeneration Area and that its use as pub did not fit in with the Council’s plan for the area. After legal advice, CAMRA have re-submitted their ACV application. While the consortium behind the regeneration plans were happy to tell the MIPM property festival last month in Cannes about their proposals – without releasing images – they have not yet been prepared to meet with CAMRA or the petitioners. Although no detailed plans have yet been submitted to the Council we believe that all of the above indicates the Abercromby is under imminent threat of demolition. The dates of the next Council Executive meetings are 1 and 29 June, 27 July and 14 September.”

    The Sir Ralph Abercromby pub is named after the 18th century Lieutenant General in the British Army. With the Friends Meeting House in nearby Mount Street, it is the last witness to the Peterloo Massacre when, on 16 August 1819, cavalry charged into the crowd of 60,000–80,000 who had gathered on St Peter’s Fields to demand the reform of parliamentary representation. Nearly 700 people were injured, more than a dozen were killed and one of the weavers cut down by the Militia was taken to the pub and laid on the bar where he died of his wounds.

    One direct consequence of the Peterloo Massacre was the formation of the Manchester Guardian newspaper in 1821 by the Little Circle group of non-conformist Manchester businessmen. While Peterloo had little effect on the speed of reform, in due course all but one of the reformers’ demands were met. It was hugely influential in ordinary people winning the right to vote and led to the rise of the Chartist Movement from which grew the Trade Unions which gave birth to the Labour Party.

    Thus the pub is associated with and a physical reminder of a vital and epoch-making stepping stone to full British democracy. We consider that demolishing it would be short-sighted, morally wrong and embarrassing for a city as ambitious as Manchester, showing carelessness of the history which created us.

    Abel Heywood, publisher, radical and twice Mayor of Manchester in the 1860s and 70s said this of Alfred Waterhouse’s Manchester Town Hall which he guided to completion: “We spared no expense. Every detail we desired to have perfect. To have been parsimonious, to have neglected corners or recesses which were obscure, to have allowed ornamentation which was tawdry, would have been for ever to brand Manchester as a city given up to no higher thought than the quickest accumulation of wealth”.

    We think that to demolish the Abercromby for a new development of offices, apartments and a five star hotel would be to betray the sentiment of that last sentence. It would also appear to be completely unnecessary since, according to the Manchester Evening News, draft plans for the area show the Abercromby replaced not by a building but by new public gardens: If this is true, it beggars belief – have the developers not considered that a 200 year old pub facing a new public garden might not be a fine addition to the city?

    Another claim to fame for the Abercromby is that it was here Executives from Granada Television voted in 1960 to call their new working-class drama Jubilee Street, only for the producer collecting the ballot papers to announce Coronation Street as the winning name! This was the world’s first TV soap opera and became the most popular world-wide. The pub has literary associations too, being often visited by John Cooper Clarke, the Salford-born performance poet who became famous during the punk rock era of the late 1970s when he became known as a ‘punk poet’.

    More recently the pub was also the inspiration for the Railway Arms, the drinking den favoured by Gene Hunt in ‘Life on Mars’, the BBC One cult time-travel Manchester cop serial broadcast between January 2006 and April 2007 and named after David Bowie’s 1973 hit single with the same title.

    With the Friends Meeting House, the Abercromby is a rare remaining Georgian building in this part of Manchester city centre. It is thought to have been built in the first decade of the 19th century and so is more than 200 years old. While some of the original interior has been changed since it was built and the north and west elevations were substantially rebuilt after bomb-damage in the Second World War, the two frontages to Bootle Street survive as first built and undoubtedly contribute to the character of the Deansgate/Peter’s Street Conservation Area.

    We note this from the HE Guidance on the listing of ‘Commerce and Exchange Buildings’: “Commercial premises are intrinsically prone to change and alteration, and cannot be expected to survive in their original configuration….Sometimes the special interest will be concentrated in a single aspect of a building (such as a shop front or fine interior) and this needs to be identified at the designation stage. Front elevations can sometimes be sufficiently interesting or rare architecturally to warrant listing, even if the interior has been substantially altered or even lost…Commercial architecture is sometimes skin-deep, and many cases of buildings being listed for their facades only can be cited”. The Abercromby retains a multi-roomed interior which we consider rare in a city centre pub.

    The Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation) Act 1990 clearly defines Conservation Areas as being areas “the character or appearance of which it is desirable to preserve or enhance”. As mentioned earlier, the three existing buildings which contribute significantly to the character and appearance of the Jackson’s Row area are the 1930’s former police HQ, the Manchester Reform Synagogue and the Abercromby pub. It seems to us that it would be a mockery of both the letter and spirit of conservation legislation if the final proposals were to relocate the internal fittings of the Synagogue and demolish the other two buildings.

  2. A great shame if another historic pub is possibly lost due to money-making schemes. MCC and developers show little concern for those using the area. Why cannot the building be incorporated into plans that would enhance the area – or are we destined to have more glass and concrete and expensive bars in a characterless centre.

  3. Cannot believe it really!!! who do they think they are? no matter how profitable or successful they may feel both for their themselves investments and their projects ..Manchester like most popular visited city needs their old historical building’s to maintain a sense of permanency an heritage – don’t get me wrong I do believe in change ..and progress however lets leave some of our old buildings still standing especially in the city centre as a reminder to t future generations so they will feel as proud of a history and heritage as the rest of us!

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