A Pub Dynasty

The McKenna name would dominate the history and development of the George and Dragon, aka Band on the Wall, for the latter half of the 19th Century and beyond; the McKennas would become a dynasty of publicans, inn owners and brewers in East Manchester, and the George & Dragon their showpiece and business hub, as this eye-witness description from 1881 affirms:

‘The large vaults of Messrs B and J McKenna have a well-to-do look about them which resents the bare suggestion of the back seat. This establishment is, I believe, the head centre of the transactions of this well-known firm of spirit merchants and brewers. The pitch is a good one as the busy trade going on there fully testifies’.

The extract is from the publication Momus, edition of June 2nd, 1881, that also includes sketches of some of the characters in Swan Street at the time.

Figure 3 – Drawings of Characters in Swan Street, 1881

The Two Brothers

The B & J McKenna were Bernard and John. The prior research into the history of Band on the Wall1 suggests that these two McKenna brothers who were to become owners of the George and Dragon and other pubs in the area, might be the sons of a Bernard and Ellen McKenna, who ran the nearby Briton’s Protection on Oldham Road earlier in the 19th Century. Our research confirms this and adds to the story of the Manchester McKennas.

The Patriarch

Bernard McKenna, senior, was born in Ireland in1776 and by 1838, at the age of 62, was the publican of The Briton’s Protection at 75 Oldham Road. The pub is no longer in existence (closed in 19422) and was just 400 yards from the George & Dragon, Swan Street – on part of the site currently occupied (2012) by the massive Wing Yip Chinese market.

Figure 4 – Photograph of the Briton’s Protection, Oldham Road, 1897, and 2012 photograph by Rosanna Freedman of the same site, now occupied by Wing Yip.

Figure 4 – Photograph of the Briton’s Protection, Oldham Road, 1897, and 2012 photograph by Rosanna Freedman of the same site, now occupied by Wing Yip.

Bernard senior must have emigrated from Ireland towards the end of the 18th century or the early part of the 19th century, perhaps with his parents, well before the Great Famine (1845-52). Maybe, like many Irish emigrants, he was escaping harsh social conditions and/or sectarian conflicts in his home country, though escape would be far from complete amid the social conditions of his adopted city where the Irish were ‘subjected to considerable prejudice’.3

Perhaps it was prejudice that motivated the following comment from a correspondent of the Manchester Chronicle in 1823, complaining of the dangers of taking an evening walk along Oldham Road with its numerous intersecting streets:

‘At the ends of many streets stand groups of Irish ruffians who appear to feel no interest but in ill-treating the peaceable and unoffending inhabitants.
This is particularly the case at the following places – near the Crown and Kettle, the Briton’s Protection and the Death of Nelson… violence is common and many depredations are committed’.4

Certainly the comment affirmed the early association with the Irish and Oldham Road where the McKennas’ Briton’s Protection was one of several pubs. On occasion the road was the scene of sectarian disturbances. In the early 19th century Manchester was the principal centre for the Orange Order in Great Britain and, from 1807, there were a number of clashes between Orangemen and resident Irish Catholics, including a disturbance on 13 July 1834 ‘near the Briton’s Protection public house on Oldham Road when the whole police force had to turn out to stop the sexton of St George’s Church on St George’s Road from being killed’.5


1iCosse, Band on the Wall Historical Desk Assessment, 2007

2Neil Richardson, ‘The Old Pubs of Ancoats’,p5

3From ‘Manchester’s Irish Story’, manchesterirish.com – quoting historian John M Werly

4Quoted in ‘Manchester’s Ancoats, Little Italy’ by Anthony Rea www.ancoatslittleitaly.com

5tbc