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The Cat, The Fiddle & The Weasel

There I was preparing a post on the Cat & Fiddle and a friend pointed me at an article that said it was to re-open in April. I'd better get my skates on or all that digging through directories and crawling through census returns will have been in vain.

The Cat & Fiddle. I've lost count of the number of times that I've driven past it and the bygone Bull I' Th' Thorn on the way to race on the Cheshire courses over Jodrell Bank way. Even though, as stated in this post, my soubriquet is "I don't do hills!" I once made an exception for the Cat & Fiddle Hill Climb a few years ago and although a calendar was needed to record my time I wasn't even last. It's a classic event finishing at a classic boozer. The course was even used for the national championship in 2002. No, I didn't ride it!


Stewart House riding the National Hill Climb Championship in 2002.

However, it sadly shut in December 2015 and for the last few seasons it's looked like this as I've driven past. However, it isn't always accompanied by blue sky.


Cat & Fiddle. 1st September 2018.

The Cat & Fiddle. How many of England's pubs are more iconic than this? Who hasn't heard its name mentioned on all those winter road closure reports? It too, for the moment at least, is also closed.


No blue sky here. 1978. Picture courtesy of Forest Distillery.

The Cat & Fiddle. Standing on the A537 road, which takes its name after the pub, the Cat & Fiddle is England's 2nd highest pub at 515m/1689ft. Originally linked with Buxton in Derbyshire now, as a result of boundary changes, it's linked to Macclesfield in Cheshire. This makes digging in directories doubly difficult


Quite when it was built I'm not certain. I've seen a date of 1813 quoted, but the turnpike road which became the A537 was authorised by Act of Parliament in 1821 and only completed in 1823. According to Dodd & Dodd's Peakland Roads and Trackways (1974): A traveller on the new turnpike in 1831 described the Cat and Fiddle as 'a newly erected and well accustomed inn or public house'. I've found no reference to it in either of Pigot's 1828 or 1834 directories. The first reference to it that I can find is in the 1841 census when John Wain is the innkeeper. He's still there a decade later. Perhaps the 1813 date has arisen as a result of the transposition of the last two digits of its true opening date, but I don't really know.


Quite when the picture below was taken I'm uncertain about too...


Picture courtesy of Forest Distillery.

...but the fact that it was used to produce a photochrom postcard suggests the 1890s, or maybe the early 1900s, as this was the heyday of the process. If that's the case then it'd be Joseph and Elizabeth Freeman who were running the place as they were there from the 1870s through until at least the 1890s.

I just love that tricycle. Picture courtesy of Forest Distillery.

After the Freemans came Matthew Beetham and he was landlord on the 21st June 1907 when a gaggle of Rolls Royces stopped there on the first day of a non-stop run from London to Glasgow. Charles Rolls himself is in the third car from the left.

21st June 1907 Picture courtesy of Forest Distillery.

The building has obviously been considerably extended since then. According to Kelly's Directories of 1923 and 1934 John Cookson was a mechanic at Central Garage in Macclesfield which, along with the styling of the bus and cars, suggests that this was the appearance of the pub in the 1920s. It's already had an extension to its left hand side, although the original sign is still in place above the door.



Advertising the services of J. J. Cookson. Probably 1920s. Picture courtesy of Forest Distillery.

Further extension work was carried out at some time and the original sign was moved to occupy a place on the outer wall of the front porch.

More recent signs have been of a more traditional nature.



Signs from the 1980s (left) and 2019. Picture courtesy of Forest Distillery.

So that's the cat and the fiddle, what about the weasel? As mentioned above, the Cat & Fiddle served its last pint in 2015 although a temporary bar was set up in the car park when the Tour of Britain pedalled past the following year. I'm pretty certain they all made it up from Macclesfield considerably quicker than I did. Different folks have had various plans for the place, one of which was for a 'two-wheeled adventure hub'. Nothing came of that idea. Early in 2018 William Robinson, joint MD of Robinsons, was quoted in the Buxton Advertiser as saying, “I think a tea room would work up there...” .


So, once again, what's with the weasel? The weasel is associated with the Forest Distillery. It's probably best if I allow it to tell its own tale. Click here to read it. As I have a few bottles of single cask malt Scotch tucked away in a cupboard I'm going to be following the weasel's progress closely.


Interior in 2019. Picture courtesy of Forest Distillery.

Should the pub reopen in April as I've read may be the case, hopefully this place will once more be full of quaffing customers. And should the cardiologist say 'Yes' to me racing again then I may well be able to pop in on the way home from an event, assuming that my journey along the A537 takes me past the A&E department and not to it. Even by 2015 prices that pint of Old Tom has to be much better value than this Peroni!


Thanks to Karl and Lindsay Bond at The Forest Distillery for the use of their pictures and the best of luck with their venture. The photographs by Graham Hogg are licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons License BY-SA 2.0.


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