It’s one of the most stunning corners of Altrincham, a place where goods were bought and sold even before Edward 1 awarded a royal charter to the town in 1290.
But for the last couple of years, Old Market Place has become a byword for the troubles of Altrincham, a once-glorious public square seemingly destined for the inevitable office conversion.
After the Orange Tree closed down in February 2012 – its then landlord bemoaning a pub that was popular but unprofitable – the Olive Olive Greek restaurant next door had barely put up its PVC sign last year before it was bringing the shutters down.
Three cheers, then, for Enterprise Inns and an enterprising trio who have replanted The Orange Tree – and have a vision to help restore the square to its rightful place as one of Altrincham’s bustling hubs.
Christopher Clish and Gabrielle Burns-Smith met a few years ago when he was the manager at The Brook in Sale; at the time she was simply a customer. Fast forward to 2012, and he was looking for “someone I could trust and someone who could roll their sleeves up” to work at his pub, The Beech in Chorlton.
He asked Burns-Smith, and despite a career that up until then had mainly involved the design of electronic security systems, she jumped at the chance.
Under their stewardship, The Beech’s reputation as one of the finest traditional pubs in the area has been restored. Clish, who according to WhatPub.com “has a long track record of well run pubs across the North West”, has duly returned it to the Good Beer Guide.
Its revival convinced Enterprise Inns, the Beech’s owner, to trust the pair with its return to Altrincham. It had also, after all, made the decision to close the pub two and a half years ago.
“They’d had enough,” explains Clish, “and rather than putting another management team in place, Enterprise closed it down.”
Why the change of mind?
“It’s obviously a stunning location, but part of the reason was definitely the resurgence of Altrincham and the fact there’s been a few bob spent on the Market hall,” he says.
“There are all sorts of factors – Altrincham in Bloom, the redevelopment of Stamford House, the train station, the promixity to the hospital and a real ale pub (the Old Market Tavern), right next door.”
Together with Burns-Smith’s boyfriend, James Dainty, they are intent on bringing an old-fashioned approach to their new pub’s expensively fitted out – and stylishly redesigned – interiors.
“We know it’s had a patchy reputation of late,” admits Burns-Smith, “but before that it had a really good reputation as a really welcoming pub.
“That’s what we’ve done at the Beech – we’ve got this lovely pub that people can come to, sit and have a few beers and chat with friends. No gimmicks, no value offer, no karaoke, no discos, just one telly, no football, no fruit machines. It’s just going to be a proper pub where you can sit with your mates.”
Those who had perhaps written off the Orange Tree as a destination could well be urged to think again. Enterprise has had to dig deep to rescue a building that was close to being condemned – Clish estimates “a couple of hundred thousand” – and a building that dates all the way back to 1679 (although used as a pub only from the 1880s) is again one that Altrincham can be proud of.
The garish orange has been replaced by a more tasteful olive green, and the interiors are now a comforting blend of exposed brick, wooden floors, cosy corners and on-trend fittings. They’re hoping local artists can help to fill the walls. The only remnants of its former days are the glass cabinet of old Wilson’s pub memorabilia and the upstairs ghost – one that Burns-Smith can personally account for the existence of.
On the square outside, they’re hoping to convince Trafford Council to invest in a restoration project.
“People have half-heartedly opened here,” adds Nottingham-born Burns-Smith, “but that’s not what we wanted to do. We wanted to completely make a statement: we’re in this for the long haul, and we want to be part of the community.”
The Beech’s blueprint for success is in place: the prominent array of local cask ales, the dogs-allowed policy, the return to a more traditional era of pub grub (“cheese or pâté or a pork pie with a bit of piccalilli”), and an ambition to be “female-friendly”.
They know who they want, and they definitely know who they don’t want. “If people want a telly on every wall or blaring music and shots and alcopops, they can go somewhere else,” adds Newcastle-born Clish.
“And we’re not ones for accepting anti-social behaviour. There will be nothing inappropriate – we’ll just stamp it out.”
With such an uncompromisingly clear vision, who’s to bet against the Orange Tree blossoming again.
Below: Gabrielle Burns-Smith and Christopher Clish, and the new-look Orange Tree