The Long Lost Castle & Falcon Pub: From a Sacred Women's Prison to One of the Best Pints in Manchester

This historic pub managed to survive right until the Metrolink arrived in 1992...

By Ben Brown | August 30th '22

You may ask why I’m telling you about a pub that has been demolished for just over 30 years – and, you’re probably right – I mean, most of you reading this probably weren’t even born in 1992, nevermind old enough to have a pint in this legendary boozer.

But with last week’s re-opening of the (newly refurbished) Lass O Gowrie, I went down a bit of an old pub hole, and The Castle & Falcon kept coming up. Considered one of the best pubs in the city for many, many years – this boozer is still missed by many, and the stories of this place are legendary.

Dating all the way back to the 1700s, the building that later became The Castle & Falcon actually started life as a church, and two of the chapel’s stained-glass windows survived in the pub right up until it was knocked down in the early 90s.

Not only that, but due to it’s proximity to Manchester Cathedral, there was a much-rumoured passage leading out of the beer cellar, which led to the cathedral, and was in fact said to house a couple of cob-webbed skeletons down there in a “condemned cell” – victims from too much ale and misdemeanours perhaps?

Checking out the fantastic ‘Hidden Manchester Map‘ and it seems like there have been many rumoured passageways to the Cathedral over the years, including one from nearby Ye Olde Rovers Return (not beneath the Arndale Centre) as well as The Bolton Arms in Salford. Quite why there were so many underground passageways leading from pubs to the Cathedral is not known, but with The Castle & Falcon once being a church itself – well, it makes more sense than any of the others.

Bradshaw Street

Bradshaw Street

The pub stood on Bradshaw Street, a road that was demolished to make way for the Metrolink and the adjoining bus station on Shudehill. It ran right across the space, and was home to a couple of offies, a warehouse and the pub. It was a big favourite amongst train workers who’d walk up from Victoria for a few swift ones, and even the local bobbies were known to sneak in a sly pint of mild whilst walking the beat.

Before it became a pub, the building functioned as a women’s prison for many, many years, and later – a general lock-up, where there are reports of a man being held there before being led to Shudehill Market to be hanged, as well as the building being the final stop for the last woman hanged in Manchester – a Blackpool housewife called Louisa Merrifield AKA ‘The Blackpool Poisoner‘.

Strangeways // Credit: Peter McDermott

It’s the building’s time a as a pub that most people fondly remember though (obviously), with a string of excellent landlords (and ladies) over the years that kept the pub at the forefront as “one of the best pints in Manchester” and one that became a true loss to the city centre when it was destroyed.

Of note, many remember the legendary Friday afternoon lock-ins, which may sound strange nowadays but would take place when last orders were called at 3pm every week. You see, old licencing laws were much stricter than today, so pubs would close at 3pm and then open again later in the evening – around 5.30pm. Not at The Castle & Falcon. Landlords would just lock everyone in until they officially re-opened, meaning you could get a much-needed full afternoon of boozing in – a big rarety for many years.

The pub even became infamous when Bob Gray, former Daily Mirror Chief Sub Editor made a visit and called it “Fawlty Towers” – as chronicled in the book ‘The Other Fleet Street’ a unique insight into the life and times of national newspapers in Manchester by Robert Waterhouse.

Reading people’s memories of this place do make it seem a bit chaotic but otherwise brilliant. The back room, also known as ‘The Tudor Room’ was decked out in reclaimed (or stolen) bus seats, and came complete with table football, a dart board, and a manky old net that would dangle down from the ceiling to stop people messing about with it.

The Tudor Room was also how you got to the Gents room, which, according to the legend, was about 8ft square but then 30ft high – with one tiny window near the top. It had previously been used by the monks when it was a chapel, and then during its time as a prison and lock up to hold prisoners.

It was called the ‘Tudor Room’ not because of a landlord’s affinity with Henry VIII, but because they sold massive sandwiches in there for the regulars, and it’s where people went to “Tudor butties“. Yeah, good gag.

In the main bar, there was even a stag’s head on the wall, which was known to just randomly fall off onto people’s heads from time to time. So yeah – this place does sound a lot like Fawlty Towers.

The pub just before demolition in 92

In the end, the construction of the Metrolink is what undid the Castle & Falcon. It looked like it was going to survive the revival and renovation of the area, but alas – it wasn’t meant to be. It closed its doors while works went on, but never reopened them.

A truly legendary boozer and one that many people still remember fondly.