When gormlessly staring out of the Magic Bus window, a slightly shabby boarded-up pub can go unnoticed. On closer inspection, written in gold print on a navy background is ‘Hardy’s Well’ – the name of this mysterious establishment.
Beyond the graffiti that now adorns its walls, and the peeling fence surrounding the site, Hardy’s Well is, in fact, both a poetic monument and a central part of Rusholme’s identity.
This 200-year-old pub is the site of Lemn Sissay’s first ‘landmark poem’. The renowned poet and Chancellor of The University of Manchester describes this as ‘public art’ on his blog. He further outlines how this first move towards making poetry public has sparked a vibrant ‘movement in contemporary poetry in England.’
His poem, ‘Hardy’s Well’, was first painted onto the south-facing wall of the pub in 1994. This followed a rumoured conversation between Sissay, a regular at the establishment, and its landlord regarding the lack of public access to poetry.
According to his blog, Sissay’s ‘landmark poetry’ movement draws upon the traditions of the concrete poets of the 1950s and 60s. Sissay places importance on the typography and aesthetic form of the poem, alongside its poetic content.
Recent developments, however, threaten the future of Hardy’s Well and the milestone poem. In August 2016 the establishment was shut down and there are now plans to redevelop the building into a block of flats.
Seamus O’Brolchain, a campaigner from the group, ‘Let’s Save Hardy’s Well’, stated that what was once “a quiet and welcoming pub with a strong core of regulars,” started to struggle after a change in management. After a variety of attempts to resuscitate business, including “tellies for the football, DJs, quiz nights, [and] gastropub scran” – O’Brolchain recounts how regulars were alienated, and new custom was not achieved. “Hardy’s days were numbered.”
Although this may not appear particularly remarkable given the current economic climate, and the ongoing decimation of independent pub culture, O’Brolchain passionately describes how the proposed changes “would be to lose a part of our community.” O’Brolchain laments Rusholme’s declining pub culture going so far as to describe the establishments as “hives of activity.” This sentiment is echoed by Sissay’s poem – ‘whoever walks into the well will wade into a wonderous world.’
With the campaign to have the building permanently protected looking bleak, Sissay’s poem and a piece of shared culture may be lost in the next year.
O’Brolchain disdainfully characterises this likely outcome to be “the gradual gutting of working-class spaces [and] the destruction of thriving communities.” In this age of gentrification and the ever-changing landscape of Manchester, we must look up from our smartphones and absorb these unlikely monuments to Community. O’Brolchain credits the loss of these communal spaces with the “epidemic of loneliness and isolation in South and Central Manchester.” Hardy’s Well is more than a ghost of the past, it represents the glue that once held a community together.