Pub Design Advice from c.1968

The cover of 'Allied Breweries Interiors Handbook'.

Chris Bates worked as an interior designer for Allied Breweries (Ind Coope/Ansell’s/Tetley) between 1968 and 1970 and recently rediscovered a handbook he was given on joining the company. He kindly sent it to us to have a look at.

Before we arrange to have it added to the collection at the National Brewing Library at Oxford Brookes, where we previously dispatched The Kegronomicon, we thought we’d share some details from it here.

No author is mentioned but, based on the style and the typography, we briefly wondered if it might have been put together by the Architectural Press off the back of Inside the PubThen we recalled this bit from Ben Davis’s 1981 book The Traditional English Pub (also published by the Architectural Press):

At Ind Coope and Allsopps in Burton-upon-Trent during the early 1950s there was a group of architects whose good fortune it was to work under Neville G. Thompson as Technical Director and Carl Fairless (later Jim Witham) as Chief Architect… [Inside the Pub] became a ‘bible’ for them and their colleagues in London, Oxford, Cardiff, Burslem, and Leeds.

So we’d guess — and it is a guess, but we’ll keep nosing about — that this pamphlet is actually the product of the Ind Coope in-house team synthesising what they’d learned from Maurice Gorham et al and imitating their style.

The booklet is only 32 pages, with no pictures, and fairly sparse text, much of it comprising checklists and notes on surface materials, lighting and so on. What follows is, in our view, the most interesting stuff.

1. Distinctions Between Bars

Page 4: Distinctions Between Bars.
This section stands out in the context of the criticism directed at breweries by the early pub preservationists and other critics. The suggestion back then was that the brewers simply loved ripping out old features to replace them with characterless modern ones, the bastards. This passage rather suggests the opposite, although perhaps that final get out clause is actually the important bit, overriding everything else. Or maybe it’s that this guidance was written in the 1950s and, by the 1970s, this kind of thinking was on the way out.

Page 5: a list of types of bar.

This list of types of bar and their essential characteristics is great, especially that ‘symphony in brown’ which is borrowed from an essay called ‘The Liveliness of London’ written by Lewis Mumford for the New Yorker in 1953. Here’s the most famous ‘American bar’, at The Savoy in London:

2. Visual Qualities

There’s not much to disagree with here. That bit about a sense of continuity is interesting — perhaps why brand new pubs are so rarely regarded with much fondness? — and NO SOPHISTICATED NASTINESS is a fantastic turn of phrase.

3. Flair & Authenticity

Page 10: Flair and Authenticity.

This is almost poetic. Do we have here, though, the origins of the ‘useless shelf’ and the tendency to decorate pubs with a skip-full of old tat bought by the kilo?

Page 11: Flair & Authenticity checklist.

The poetry intensifies: that the pub is about ‘being at one with others in the past and the future who participate in the basic satisfaction given by the ancient custom of social drinking’ is a lovely idea.

And, again, it’s interesting to read such sensible advice on retaining original features and character and then consider what happened in practice.

4. Surfaces

Page 19: Surfaces.

‘Areas of cold or pale colouring can become a visual LEAK, through which one’s comfort evaporates, or psychological draughts sweep in.’ Blimey, that’s strong stuff — almost Lovecraftian. And, yes, more relevant than ever.

5. Contents

Page 23: Contents.

As in, the contents of the pub, not the contents of the booklet. Confusing. The bit we especially like here is ‘(assuming it is an agreeable one)’ — who breaks the news to a publican that their personality is not agreeable and that their creepy collection of Victorian dolls needs to go?

6. Special Appeal

Page 30: Special Appeal to women and young people.

Ladies ‘like to penetrate a male stronghold’ — steady on now! — and don’t like pubs with dodgy toilets. And that’s everything you need to know about women, apparently.

Seriously though, that’s a really good point about young people. If you’re constantly chasing the latest trends you’ve got to keep doing it. Exhausting and expensive, especially when you could just wait for them to grow up.

4 thoughts on “Pub Design Advice from c.1968”

  1. My recollection is that some of the “Big Six” were noticeably worse than others when it came to insensitive pub refurbishments. Watneys and their subsidiaries were probably the worst; Allied Breweries amongst the best.

  2. I was lucky enough when joining Allied to attend a course on pub design run by Ben Davis, aimed at area managers and surveyors principally, which took place at the De Hems in Soho and included a number of visits to Central London pubs to illustrate his principles.
    “Symphony in brown ” is a phrase I recall.
    Sadly my copy of his book was water damaged and ruined when in storage.

  3. I’ve mentioned before that I have a copy of “The Traditional English Pub” by Ben Davis which is something of a treasured possession.

    It’s sad how all this knowledge about how pubs actually *work* has now largely been lost. You look at modern interior designs, for example Wetherspoon’s, although they’re by no means the only offenders, and so often they just don’t feel right. The customers don’t flow naturally through the pub and often distribute themselves awkwardly in a way that never used to happen.

  4. Wonderfully simple but sophisticated writing. Reminded me of David Ogilvy advertising copy. After all these years the handbook still has relevant views on the perfect pub.

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