We venture past this building every day, the red-brick border between Fallowfield and Rusholme. The bold black letters that occupy the south-facing wall greet thousands of students and commuters on their way into central Manchester everyday; have you paused and read?
Hardy’s Well is a proper piece of South Manchester’s history. It is over 200 years old, and was named after Hardy’s Brewery, a company founded in 1832, which only stopped production in 2006. Until 2003, Manchester City were based at Maine Road in Moss Side, meaning that for a time, it was exclusively a boozer for City fans. As times changed, a growing student population found themselves in the Well, as well as local residents from all around.
Now though, there are no crowds or customers. The walls are dusty and the garden is overgrown. Next time you pass you may see billboards for Eamar Developments. This company is trying to secure planning permission for a complex of 35 flats and 8 shops to be built on the site of this landmark. Happily, pressure from the council and the local community have brought this process to a standstill. For now.
One of the biggest reasons for the outcry is the landscape poem that is displayed on the wall overlooking the beer garden. The poem, also called ‘Hardy’s Well’, was written by Lemn Sissay: poet, playwright, broadcaster and current chancellor of the University of Manchester. In 1994, Sissay had a conversation with a barman, who bet the former that he couldn’t write a poem about the pub which only used words beginning with ‘W’. It was after this the words were immortalised. As it stands, there are 97 words in the whole poem, and 71 of those begin with W; a good effort, by anyone’s standards.
It seems like a simple idea, but if you look closer you can see the examples of Sissay’s stunning manipulation of language to fit the poem. Particular highlights are the use of ‘waterless’ to mean thirsty, and the ‘it’ll double you’ play on words at the end. To any aspiring writers, using alliterative exercises like this can be a useful, albeit difficult, task.
The poem is fantastic, but there are other reasons this building is special. It’s another popular student venue that has been taken off the map. To put it into context, Antwerp Mansion, located a stones throw away, lost part of its licence last year. Hardy’s Well had closed its doors only two years before in 2016. Next time you walk past Hardy’s Well, stop for a second to read Mr Sissay’s poem, if nothing else, for it not to be forgotten. Even if you’re not particularly interested in the stunning northern red brick, or the history of South Manchester, you will still be reading the most creative description of drinking culture in the local area.
If the plans for the rebuilding of this site go ahead, it is going to be up to us to protect it.
The Well will win.