Some Manchester pubs also organised courses and discussions; for many pub customers the normal accompaniment to drinking was — and remains — conversation. At the George & Dragon in the first decades of the 19th century the serious topics of chat may have included:
- 1807 – UK Act abolishing slavery – of particular relevance to a city whose wealth was in part based on slave-grown cotton.
- 1812 – the Luddites burning down of the West Houghton mill in Lancashire.
- The war with France & her allies.
- The bread riots including an incident in 1812 at New Cross, 100 yards from the George & Dragon. A cart loaded with meal was stopped and its contents distributed by a crowd of hungry men and women… quiet was not restored until the Riot Act had been read and the cavalry marched down Oldham Street.
- The Anglo-American war of 1812-1815.
- 1817 – Blanketeers March cruelly suppressed, especially in Ardwick & Stockport, by cavalry of the King’s Dragoon Guards. The marchers, mainly spinners and weavers, were on their way to London to present a petition to the Prince Regent, calling for him to intervene to assist the Lancashire cotton trade.
- The infamous Peterloo Massacre of 1819 when an estimated 12 people were killed and some 630 men, women & children injured, many with sabre wounds and trampling injuries. A peaceful meeting of 50,000 to 60,000 was attacked by Manchester Yeomanry and the 15th Regiment of Hussars. The public meeting had been organised to demand the reform of parliament. At this time Manchester did not have an MP; throughout the country less than 2% of the adult population had a vote.
In the early years the only direct competition to the George & Dragon for the pub trade in Swan Street was the Rising Sun at the north end, a bigger enterprise, with its substantial stables for visitors’ and residents’ horses. At the other end, and only 100 yards away was the Crown & Kettle, still extant at the corner of Great Ancoats Street and Oldham Road, and first mentioned in the 1800 directory 11. This pub had the distinct trade advantage of overlooking New Cross, an important meeting point for traders, travellers and carriers, as well as a ‘rendezvous where all kinds of opinions could be ventilated: politics, socialism, religion, literature and multitudinous other subjects’ 12. It also was an open market. By 1815, another pub across the road from the Crown & Kettle also overlooked New Cross. This was the St Vincent that was still in business into the late 1980s; now on the site is an office building – its façade not unlike the original pub – and appropriately called St Vincents House, built in 1991.
Into the 1820s, the trade advantage that the New Cross market gave to the Crown & Kettle and the St Vincent would be lost, and the loss would be to the George & Dragon’s gain.