Volunteer, Cross Street, Sale. (c) garstonian at flickr.
As the summer lull comes to an end we're introducing a guest pub feature for those outside the Pubs of Manchester boundary that we like to frequent. First up is Sale's finest-looking (and finest) boozer, the Volunteer, a great old Holt's house on Cross Street, the A56, a few minutes walk from Sale tram stop. It's not always been a Holt's house - seen here as a Whitbread's house probably in the 1980s, and here in 1982 as an unknown brand of boozer (Chef's Brewer?). The pub's name commemorates the enlistment of troops for the Napoleonic War which took place at nearby Sale Moor and an area near Hope Road in 1804. In charge of these troops was Captain John Moore who, unfortunately, later went on to be involved in the Peterloo Massacre where he commanded a troop of murderous yeomanry! .
The pub's impressive architecture suggests mid-Victorian period construction, and it's believed the Volunteer was built around about the same time as neighbouring pub, the Bulls Head, but after the Waggon & Horses . This drawing from the Trafford archives is labelled 1898 but is surely from older times? Here's a wonderful photo of the Volunteer from 1905 (Trafford Council tried to charge me £30 for the use of this photo - erm, as a Trafford Council Tax payer my response starts with
fuck 'sod' and ends with 'off'). Inside are high ceilings and the layout of the old once-multi-roomed pub is evident. Nowadays it's been opened out with a pool table and darts area to the right (not to mention the numerous trophies on display), a long bar to the front and a large and part-raised seating area to the left. A function room upstairs and a small (formerly large until NIMBY neighbours had it curtailed) beer yard to the rear adds further capacity to this big old boozer.
Like all good pubs though, what makes it good is the beer and the people that drink it. Holt's Bitter, Dark Mild and a guest are on along with the usual Crystal, Diamond, cider, stout and Smooth Holt's offerings. The full range of Holt's bottled ales are also on offer. As for the regulars, a more loyal and hard-drinking bunch of characters you'll not find. It's the sort of pub that attracts the same crowd every night and has impromptu sing songs, but they remain welcoming to less regular drinkers and even have been known to put up with visiting student types on quiz night. The pub has formidable, all-conquering pool and darts teams and the friendly landlord even puts on Christmas dinner for those loyal regulars without a better offer on the 25th! As with all Holt's pubs, the Vol does more than its fair share for charity, and one year we'll definitely do the Vol-to-Blackpool bike ride, honest.
Volunteer, Cross Street, Sale. (c) Adam B. at flickr.
The Vol's immediate neighbours are the unavailable members-only Garvey's Irish Club and the sadly derelict Waggon & Horses. But, there are a couple of others worth a look just a few hundred yards away, up and down Cross Street. The Bridge is a decent and recently refurbished Lees house at Dane Road tram stop, and the CAMRA-highlighted Bulls Head on the corner of School Road is now rather food-focussed but keeps a few real ales and is doing well. A further stagger into the pedestrianised Sale centre and you've got the madhouse that is Ryan's Bar, a youngsters' bar called Amp, the poor and ale-free Bank and crap Slug & Lettuce chain. Don't despair though as there is an excellent little Robinson's house, the Railway, near the police station and the Kings Ransom opposite Sale tram station, which has plenty of real ales on but can be a bit of a meat market at weekends. Just over the way is another CAMRA-recommended place, the J.P. Joule, a reasonable Wetherspoons. To conclude, central Sale is a mixed bag and could do with a few more decent pubs and trendy bars to complement its decent restaurants, like neighbouring Chorlton, Didsbury and Altrincham. The Volunteer, though, is a cracking local's local.
EDIT: Pleased to report the opening of the Steamhouse opposite the tram stop in the old nightclub venue. Reports of a free house with an over-25s policy, serving a couple of real ales and a great selection of continental lagers will be confirmed shortly.
We're happy to host guest pubs for anyone else willing to write about their favourite boozer, just get in touch.