IT is one of Manchester’s most iconic pubs – but the historic Mr Thomas’s Chop House, which first opened its doors in 1867, is about to undergo a six week name change.
Owner Roger Ward is renaming it Mrs Sarah’s Chop House in honour of the formidable ladies who ran the Victorian pub dining rooms at a time when women weren’t even allowed inside the fashionable Chop Houses of Manchester, in the late 19th and early 20th century.
The grand unveiling of Sarah’s Chop House comes on March 8th to celebrate International Women’s Day, less than three months after Manchester’s historic Emmeline Pankhurst statue was installed.
Roger has become so fascinated with the history of his pub and restaurant that he is rebranding his business in celebration of the mother and daughter team, both called Sarah Studd, who ran it over 100 years ago.
‘At the end of last year, Manchester unveiled our statue of Emmeline Pankhurst. Since then the John Rylands Library has been running a really fascinating exhibition called The Women Who Shaped Manchester. It asks simply, what will they inspire you to do? I thought we should make a statement and tell the fascinating story that has emerged from original research on ancestry websites and in the archives of the Victorian Manchester Guardian.
Roger has been researching the Studd family history: ‘We’ve actually managed to trace one living relative. We’re desperately hoping we can find even more information and maybe some historic family photographs. It would be very emotional to discover what these people really looked like. We are passionate about telling this story. The voices of these women are getting clearer and their remarkable achievements in an almost entirely male dominated period deserve to be heard.’
Roger believes that Sarah Studd and her daughter, also Sarah, held pioneering roles which pre-dated the British women’s suffrage movement thanks to their years spent at the helm of the chop house, which was first opened in 1867 by Thomas Studd, Sarah senior’s husband.
By 1875 he was too ill to work in the city and tended plants in his nursery in Heaton Mersey. He died in 1880, at just 45 years old. Sarah was obliged to run two Thomas’s sites (including a separate dining room on King Street). She was responsible for 3 to 400 covers a day.
Eventually she was succeeded by her assistant and daughter Sarah who ran it for four years until 1901. So, as Roger says Mrs Sarah Studd was definitely running the show. And when you consider she had eight children and the young couple started with nothing, it really is a remarkable story of a truly amazing partnership, and a truly amazing woman.’
Indeed, the chop houses, known as meeting houses for businessmen, remained strictly male only venues until well into the second half of the 20th century.
‘I think it’s a really important story for a city known for so many global firsts, and that has such an important place in women’s history. Sarah must have been a huge, larger than life character to run this establishment in such male-dominated times. I’d love to find out more and even write a book about her one day.’
Both Sarah Studds can be seen on a mahogany honours board displayed in the pub featuring all the licensees from 1867.
Today women remain the very heart of Mr Thomas’s success, with general manager Selina Lee running the ever-popular pub with the help of restaurant manager Sharron Clark who has been at Mr Thomas’s for more than 20 years.
‘Selina is a mum, balancing her work responsibilities with her home life and Sharon is more a part of the fabric of Tom’s than I am! Both have been with us for years and they know the ins and outs of the place better than anyone. I think it is amazing that tiny Thomas’s is one of the few surviving Victorian chop houses in this city. And I think both Sarah Studds would be really proud of what they started and what Selina and Sharon are continuing.’