In 1944, Faber published, on cheap wartime paper, a short book by local government official C.H. Gardiner entitled Your Village and Mine.
A pre-emptive strike in the debate about if and how British society should change in the wake of the experience of World War II, Gardiner devoted quite a bit of space to what he calls the ‘third oldest village institution’ after the church and the manor house — the inn.
Many of his comments show just how little debate has moved on in 70 years, sounding as if they might have come from a recent news article on ‘binge Britain’:
Generally, the village inn thrives, but sometimes in a way that is no good to the village. Instead of being a social meeting-ground for temperate and hard-working village men, it has become a drinking saloon patronized by men and women intent on consuming as much as they can in the shortest possible time before going home or rushing to another alcoholic place of call.
He doesn’t, however, advocate total abstinence — the dignified enjoyment of a ‘pint of cider or bitter beer’ meets his approval — but there is a sense that he sees serious boozing as a distraction from the really important functions of a pub: political debate, gossip and the playing of traditional games. Many village pub landlords, he observes, are teetotal and regulate the drinking of their customers.
The greatest threat to the integrity of this institution — he keeps using that word, and it’s an interesting one — is the influence of outsiders:
In war-time many inns have been temporarily ruined from a local and social angle by an influx of workmen engaged on government contracts and earning high wages. The shortage of beer and considerably reduced opening hours have had a bad effect in those places where the populations greatly increased. Both strangers and natives are inclined to drink more than is usual for fear that there will be none to-morrow. But as an elderly landlady said to me, ‘It’s just a phase’, and, with motor traffic off the roads, the pubs in remote villages have again assumed a leisurely local atmosphere…
He observes a tendency of pubs to separate different sections of the clientele with screens and side rooms, not along class lines, but based on ‘localness’. At one pub, he noted a small room reserved for ultra-locals who could trace family roots in the village back 200 years, and who would get up and walk out grumbling if a stranger insisted on entering. (Stammtisch?)
By this time, women, Gardiner suggests, were increasingly keen to visit the public bar and socialise with friends and neighbours, though many pubs still refused to admit them, which ‘raises questions of accommodation, particularly when a lawn or seats in a garden cannot be used’.
He concludes that ‘drinking in general has increased… [while] drunkenness has declined’, which he puts down largely to improvements in living conditions and the availability of alternative forms of entertainment, e.g. church-organised social events and the wireless.
His final recommendations are, first, that wartime licensing hours be removed in peace time but that early closing on Sunday lunchtime be retained: ‘Nobody appreciates this more than the village housewife who can now be certain of her menfolk returning to their Sunday dinner at a reasonable hour.’ He also suggests that the key to the survival of the village inn as an institution is the segregation of locals from visitors, who arrive by car in search of rural charm and something to eat:
The main bar should be reserved for the village men and facilities provided to enable them to play their innocent games of tippit, shove-halfpenny, crib, and darts.
We’re getting quite a collection of these slightly patronising, oh-so-worthy social observation studies. This one is no The Pub and the People, but it does provide a fascinating snapshot of a very specific point in British history.