Seven Stars, Withy Grove, 1877. (c) Greater Manchester County Records Office .
The Seven Stars once claimed to be the oldest public house in England, having stood here for 555 years - from 1356 to 1911 when it was demolished. However, it was most likely predated by the nearby Rovers Return a few doors up on Shudehill. Indeed it has been suggested that the builders of the Seven Stars had refreshments in the Rovers . This 1885 photo shows how it was sandwiched between coffee and cheese merchants. The Seven Stars stood pretty much where the Withy Grove entrance to the Arndale Centre now is, on the left of the below image.
Withy Grove. (c) Google 2010. View Larger Map.
The Archives also has some great interior photos of the Seven Stars - these 1885 shots show the vestry with 'oldest licenced house' boast, the bar, cellar with its Taylor Eagle barrels of ale and 'Ye Guy Faux Chamber'. This was so-named because Guy Fawkes, the Gunpowder Plotter, was meant to have fled from time spent plotting at Ordsall Hall, a couple of miles away, to the Seven Stars via an underground tunnel. Traces of a tunnel were known at the Hall, also at the Seven Stars, though this tunnel was believed to have been connected with Trafford Hall, a couple of miles even further away. The fascinating Manchester Underground book contains a letter from Frederick Tavare who wrote to the CITY NEWS in 1892:
"(In the) cellars is visible an old arch, which is the reputed entrance to a secret passage which at one time is believed to have afforded subterranean communication with the old Collegiate Church, built in the fifteenth century (now the Cathedral), and thence, so tradition affirms, to the old Ordsall Hall, then the residence of the Radclyffes, a well-known Roman Catholic family. This secret passage, it is alleged, was, in the dim and distant past, not only made use of by the workmen at the Old Church, who received a penny a day for their wages, and got their dinners and other meals at the Seven Stars, but also played a prominent part in the escapades of the terrible Guy Fawkes, the never-to-be-forgotten hero of the Great Gunpowder plot.
It is said that Fawkes was concealed at the mansion at Ordsalll. King James's soldiers were in close pursuit, and Fawkes, reduced to the most pressing extremity, took to the secret passage, gained the Seven Stars, emerged into a room (still known to visitors as Ye Guy Fawkes Chamber), darted through a still existing trapdoor in the ceiling, and my means of a gloomy passage, now utilized by spirits of another sort, gained the street and liberty ."
A tragic story is behind a horseshoe which was nailed to a post inside the pub. The story goes that in 1805 a farmer's servant was leading a shoe-less horse past the Seven Stars, holding the shoe. As he passed by a Press Gang rushed out and detained him to serve in the army and fight Napoleon. The servant asked the landlord to nail up the horse shoe, which he'd collect on his return from the war. It was never reclaimed .
1. Underground Manchester, Keith Warrender (2007).