Its football team are The Railwaymen, it lives in the popular imagination as a music-hall song about a wayward passenger – and even the town itself was named after the station and not the other way round.
Crewe is synonymous with trains.
The club and its first ground both date back to 1877. Both owe their names to Alexandra of Denmark and both gained an elevated status in the game that would not have been granted so quickly had Crewe not conveniently been a major national rail hub.
Only a decade after its opening, the Alexandra Recreation Ground hosted an FA Cup semi-final, the only time that Rangers made it that far south of the border. The 3-1 win for Aston Villa was played before a record crowd of 7,000 – many, no doubt, travelling by train from Birmingham.
A year later, Crewe even staged a full international, a 5-1 win for England against Wales. The records show that the game took place at Nantwich Road – an alternative name for the Alexandra Rec.
Only five years after their foundation, and a year after Villa’s triumph, Crewe Alexandra also made the FA Cup semi-finals, a defeat to that year’s famed Invincibles of Preston at nearby Anfield.
The following year, Crewe’s ground held another semi-final, and its replay. As recently as 2015, Gresty Road, the stadium that replaced the nearby one on Nantwich Road – this actually the second Gresty Road, the first one demolished because of a new rail track – entertained Northern Ireland against 2022 World Cup hosts Qatar.
Compare this to, say, Nantwich itself. When the Grand Junction Railway, perhaps the world’s first long-distance line, co-founded by Stephenson in the 1830s, decided on a sleepy Cheshire hamlet of 70 people for its hub instead of a busy town of tanners four miles away, it was because the good folk of Nantwich had rejected the GJR.
This rural halt was named after nearby Crewe Hall, which still stands today as a plush hotel complex.
With the railway came workers, with workers came football. When ‘The Alex’ became inaugural members of the Second Division in 1892, Crewe had a population some 700 times what it was before Stephenson and his railway.
Nantwich Town, meanwhile, have spent their entire 130-year history in the Cheshire and regional leagues. (Bizarrely, however, both Nantwich and Crewe have stands named after Whitby Morrison Ice Cream Vans, this being the home of the world’s largest manufacturer.)
And, despite the negative impressions of celebrated travel writer Bill Bryson, tourists have been flocking to Crewe for decades, here for the rail heritage but happy to take in a game at Gresty Road.
Some might have caught the likes of David Platt and Neil Lennon, two of many nurtured under the long-term tutelage of former Crewe manager Dario Gradi, as revered in this railway town as Stephenson himself.
The nearest airport to Crewe is Manchester, 45km (28 miles away). A direct train leaves every hour for Crewe (35min journey time, £5). Services from Manchester Piccadilly are more frequent and can be found from £3 online. Direct from London Euston (every 15-30min, fastest 1hr 30min), you can pay over £100 or find tickets for under £10 online. Equally frequent from Birmingham, trains take 1hr, online tickets £7.
Crewe station is handy for the rest of the UK and Crewe Alexandra next door – but not, particularly, for Crewe itself. It’s a good 10min walk into town.
From Stand A, Arriva bus Nos.37/38 run to Crewe bus station in town every 30min.
From Rail House stop H by the stadium on Gresty Road, Arriva bus No.6 and D&G bus No.12 leave every 30min, Mon-Sat only. From the next stop, opposite the Brunswick pub on Nantwich Road, D&G bus Nos.1/1B (not Sun) and First Group bus No.3 are every 20-30min.
These services are also useful for the football ground to and from town – unless it’s a Sunday. The town centre is 3-4 stops away.
Each company has its own ticketing system but choosing the PlusBus option when you buy your rail ticket allows you all-day travel with all three for an extra £2.50 – its website also has the best route-planning function.
Crewe-based Westside Taxis (01270 258 888) accepts credit cards and quotes airport transfers from £35.
The nearest lodging to the ground, on that side of the rails, the Royal Hotel is best known as a pre-match pub and live venue but also offers 37 basic rooms that come with breakfast. Also close, the family-run, 21-room Waverley has its own bar and restaurant.
Across the tracks, opposite the station, the Crewe Arms was the world’s first railway hotel, now in the Best Western group, modern within, outside ornately historic, fit for Queen Victoria, who stayed in the steam age. Turn left at the nearby roundabout and you find the simple, affordable Holiday Inn Express. Turn right, and you’ll find the simple, affordable Premier Inn Crewe Central.
Further down from the Holiday Inn past the university, the Travelodge Crewe is similarly functional.
Further up from the Premier Inn along Weston Road, you find sumptuous Crewe Hall, frequently nominated for national hotel awards. Lending its name to the nearby train halt where the station was developed, and thus Crewe itself, this stately mansion dates back to medieval times, its present-day grandeur was re-created in the late 1800s. Today it houses a spa, pool, sauna – and its own chapel.
Just the other side of the A500 from there, in Weston itself, upscale restaurant, lounge bar and hotel the White Lion is another historic landmark, its 17 tastefully decorated en-suite rooms in the £70-£80 range.
Crewe town centre has surprisingly few pubs – many are clustered around the station, so extremely convenient for Gresty Road.
Typical of the hostelries amid the chain shops surrounding Crewe Town Square, Grand Junction (1 Heath Street) enjoyed a much-needed overhaul in 2016 and now offers cask ales and big-screen sport in a neatly refurbished interior.
If you’re looking for a little more tradition, then the Borough Arms (33-35 Earle Street) fits the bill, with its regularly changing guest ales, decent snacks, sport on TV and terrace/garden. You’ll find it at the corner of the railway bridge, just over the tracks from the town centre.
By the bus station, The Gaffers Row is Crewe’s Wetherspoons, originally built for foremen of the railway company.
For a pub with a little more character, you’ll have to explore a little further. On the south-west edge of town by Valley Brook, the award-winning Hop Pole has its own bowling green in summer, real ales and a TV for sport, and goes big on darts, dominoes and pub games.
In the rustic surroundings east of town, in the village of Haslington, the Hawk Inn dates back to the 1500s, hence the roaring fire and historic appearance. It’s also an outlet for Robinsons brewery from Stockport, hence the Trooper beer created with Iron Maiden. From nearby, Arriva bus Nos.37 and 38 run every 20-30min into Crewe.
South of Crewe in the pretty village of Wrinehill, 20min away on the hourly No.85 bus, the award-winning Crown Inn attracts ale aficionados with its six varieties, plus home-cooked food and a cosy fire.