Chorlton has a coffee festival now. Twenty years ago, the chances of those words, being used in that precise order, would have been so astronomical that it would have required a computer of HAL 9000 proportions to calculate the odds. A Guinness festival would have been a much more likely prospect, but how times change. But I see I’m getting ahead of myself, so for the benefit of the handful of people reading this who don’t know what Chorlton is, please allow me to introduce you.

Chorlton cum Hardy isn’t just a suburb in South Manchester, Chorlton is a state of mind; it’s a way of life, a melting pot of ideas and cultures which blah, blah and indeed blah. Sorry, but I’m rather fed up with all the metropolitan newspeak gibberish that’s written about the place in which I grew up, and which, on and off, I’ve been privileged to call home for decades. You know what Chorlton is? It’s ace, that’s what it is. It’s ace because it has character, history, big green spaces, and lots of interesting people, plus at the last count there’s one restaurant/bar/coffee shop for every three residents. And, by the way, every time I hyperlink the word Chorlton it links to a different webpage, just in case you thought I was some sort of lazy link junky. I bet you wish you’d clicked on them now don’t you? But it’s too late, you can never go back. Oh go then, I’ll wait till you catch up, but just this once mind.

What about this coffee festival then, I hear you ask? Well, you know what, it all looks rather good. The website is pleasingly simple yet still all funky monkey and that, and I particularly recommend the blog which seems to encapsulate the spirit of the festival,which, shockingly, seems to actually be about coffee (and tea) and café culture. The whole thing is spread over three days – Friday 28 to Sunday June 30 – although there are some pre-festival events in the week leading up to the big weekend. What’s on offer includes comedy, storytelling, music, craft and writing workshops, poetry, baking, treasure hunts, a family bike race, meditation, fine art, competitions and even a film festival. And, of course, lots and lots of coffee.

A cappuccino in a black mug with a music design made with coffee.So, now that you know what Chorlton is I’ll explain just why hosting a coffee festival here would once have been a most unlikely event. You see,once upon a time, if you wanted to go out of an evening then Chorlton had a modest array of long-standing pubs and restaurants with which to tempt you. The genuinely staggering expansion of eateries and café bars is a relatively new phenomenon and has gone hand in hand with the relative decline in actual shops, selling actual things – see the correlation there? For example, Kingspot, the grandmother of all pound shops which was once to be found opposite the Co-op, is now, of all things, a Japanese restaurant. That’s right, just as high streets elsewhere claim they can’t lease their empty units to anything but pound shops, Chorlton was closing its venerable emporium of tat and reinventing it as a purveyor of Japanese cuisine. It’s hard to convey just how strange a metamorphosis that is for anyone who lived here before they began to move in.

Yeah, that’s right, I mentioned them. What’s that? Just precisely who am I referring to you ask? Well, you know…them; the people the evening news calls “trendy young professionals”, the people  who’ve flooded in and taken our media jobs, eaten our hummus and driven up house prices (that last one’s actually true).

I myself prefer the term bobo when referring to the borough’s latest wave of immigrants (the word is French shorthand for ‘bourgeois bohemian’). In flocking here these bobos follow in the wake of other migrant communities such as the Poles, who came here when many members of the Free Polish Army settled in Britain after the war. As it happens, their beloved Barbakan delicatessen is still feeding Chorltonians to this day. And most notably they follow in the footsteps of the Irish who settled in Chorlton in their thousands and whose local pubs I used to frequent in my youth. You could tell they were Irish pubs because no one referred to them as such and they were completely free of all overtly Irish paraphernalia. In fact, The Beech was sometimes used as a film location because it so closely resembled a typical rural Irish pub. It also used to serve a fine pint of Murphy’s (it may still do for all I know) which for me was only rivalled by The Eldon in Leeds.

Here the experience of the Irish in Chorlton is instructive, for they often occupied two distinct social positions; the working class tradesmen, and the wealthy self-made men whose names could be found on the side of vans, lots of vans in some cases, which their aforementioned countrymen drove to work in every morning.  All gradations of property could always be found in Chorlton (save that of the slum) and the very wealthy, the well to do and the working class all lived within walking distance of one another. The district has not been made middle class by the arrival of the bobos, they were already here in numbers, it’s not even been made bohemian by them for Beech Road has long since been the haunt of the artistic and the literate. The only difference is that the bohemian forerunners of today’s inhabitants were, by and large, penniless.

Unlike the Irish and Poles before them, these new incomers, these bourgeois bohemians, are most likely to be fellow Britons, whether they hail from Stretford or Stratford and, as a result, they do represent something new in our history, namely a loose tribe of mobile internal immigrants. But they are not responsible for the change in Chorlton culture in which a coffee festival has been made not only possible, but probable. No, these new Chorltonians are simply the latest reflection of a place that was already experienced in embracing change and adopting new people. How Chorlton has changed (along with other bobo enclaves like the Northern Quarter) is down to the massive societal shifts of the last few decades – personally I would go as far as to suggest that most people are now a little more bourgeois, and a touch more bohemian, than they were twenty years ago.

In any event, a Coffee Festival, once improbable not just in Chorlton but in most of the UK, is now simply part of the cultural landscape and I for one intend to drink so much of the stuff that I’ll probably be awake for a month afterwards. Viva la bean. Viva la Chorlton.

By Alfred Searls


What: Chorlton Coffee Festival

Where/More info: See listings

When: June 28, 2013 – June 30, 2013, with pre-festival events running from June 24, 2013