I know an article on tripe is stretching not only the remit of the Manchester Modernists but also, some would argue, stretching the boundaries of good taste. But I became aware of a book called “A Most Excellent Dish – Tales of the Lancashire Tripe Trade” (yes- a whole book on tripe - and people sometimes think we are cranks?!). I was fascinated to see what a widely popular dish offal once was and even more surprised to see the level of sophistication some suppliers went to present and serve this ‘delicacy’.
I must confess now that I have been a vegetarian for over 20 years and thankfully have never sampled the delights of tripe. But perhaps 50 years ago I may have been tempted in to one of the restaurants run by the charmingly named United Cattle Products. Perhaps understandably the acronym UCP was the more common moniker and they presented themselves from their inception in 1920 as a very modern, sophisticated company. They had a smart logo and across the business, which was essentially a co operative of already established so-called 'tripe dressers', they had what we would probably now call a strong corporate image.
According to A Most Excellent Dish, UCP was formed when 15 Lancashire tripe dressers amalgamated and combined their businesses and established state of the art facilities at Levenshulme with the head offices also based in Manchester.
UCP would sell their products through their own shops, many of which had dining areas to the rear of the shop. Image was clearly an issue to UCP and they embraced the design styles of the day to incorporate into their restaurants. When UCP opened a shop in Bradshawgate Bolton in 1934 it was in a very contemporary moderne style, with an Odeon-esque fin neon sign on the exterior and a sumptuous wood panelled dining room inside. The waitresses wore immaculate black uniforms with white pinnies and hats, with crockery and cutlery all sporting the UCP logo. All this seems rather extravagant considering what they were serving up consisted of hooves, bladders, elder (whatever that is – I’d rather not know to be honest!) and of course tripe.
It would appear tripe was only really popular in the north and one can only presume the relatively high nutritional value, combined with the low cost, made tripe in the 19th century popular with northern working classes and tradition carried it through into the 20th century. Wartime rationing would have sustained this popularity with post war austerity keeping sales high into the second half of the century. With its popularity clearly at its peak in the early 1960's UCP expanded their flagship store on Market Street, Manchester into a brand new purpose built building. Opened in 1964 and situated on the corner of Market Street and Pall Mall, externally it was in-built using the architectural language of the day. A four storey concrete and glass building, UCP were housed in the whole building with facilities getting more luxurious the further up the building one went. On the ground floor was a food shop, with a butchery and 'self service store' selling UCP products in their rawest form and 'all the leading brands of goods'. First floor was a cafeteria, catering to lunchtime diners and the hip coffee shop set, third floor was the restaurant and the top floor was the 'Coniston Suite' - a banqueting area. It seems no expense was spared, and tripe could be enjoyed in surroundings that were the height of sophistication. The Manchester Evening News reported,
“Soft music and pleasant surroundings induce a relaxed atmosphere. Features include… large windows overlooking busy Market Street, the neat cloakroom and the soft browns and oranges of the décor….”
“Dominating the cafeteria is a giant panel depicting a country landscape with trees, fields and a river. The panel was designed and executed in Italy and covers most of the wall. It is illuminated in bright and cheerful colours. Immediately beneath it is yet another unusual feature of these ultra modern premises. It is a fountain and miniature waterfall in a natural rock setting with artificial flowers and ferns.”
“One of the most impressive highlights is the banqueting suite on the top floor. Most of one wall has been faced with Westmorland Green Stone, while on the other side of the large dining room is a wall covered with blue animal hide” (I’m not making this up!)
“Just off the main dining room in the Coniston Suite is a reception room with a bar; the dance floor is of maple wood and the lighting is housed in ceiling recesses.”
So, in 1960’s Manchester, you could dance the night away with your date, in sumptuous surroundings, enjoying a cocktail or two, with the highlight of the evening being a delicious meal of cows’ stomach lining.
I am sure most readers are too young to remember the mass appeal of tripe, but it seems to have been popular up until the 1980’s with the UCP in Blackpool still trading up until 1989. There were literally hundreds of tripe shops and cafes in Lancashire through much of the 20th century, but during the 1970's, when such exotic foods as Ski yoghurt and Vesta curry started to turn the heads of British consumers, their decline was rapid. UCP is no more and their flagship restaurant is also no more. The building however still stands – it was Office shoes for a while and its most recent tenant was the Noiselab project, who had their pop-up store in the building. I'm not aware of any of the original interior decorations still being in place but the exterior remains pretty much intact and its worth stepping back from the building and looking up. You can just spot a small balcony – leading off the Coniston Suite – where I imagine some of Manchester's cultural elite may have once retired for a cigarette, sipping Campari and soda, after their evenings dancing and dining.
I wonder how many of the hip young things working in the space with Noiselab were aware of its previously equally hip past as the coolest place in Manchester to enjoy offal?
© Eddy Rhead
This article first appeared in The Modernist issue 1 'BOLD'.