Category Archives: london

Pub Entertainment, 1926

Looking for one thing, we found another: an essay by H.V. Morton entitled ‘Pub Crawlers’, published in The Nights of London in 1926.

In this context, the crawlers are not drinkers as in modern usage but hawkers relying on ‘human nature in its most expansive moments’, (i.e. pissed, in the pub) to earn a few pennies selling boot laces, matches, or performance art:

Most remarkable of all the bar visitors is the Young Man with the Paper Shapes… He slips into a bar silently, and he stands by the door. Somehow the people become aware of him. Mrs Jones, with her veil on her nose, pauses in mild alarm, with her second glass of stout poised above her ample bosom, as she says, sotto voce:

‘Oo-er; look at ‘im! What’s he after?’

They see a pale young man gazing round the bar from beneath the brim of an old felt hat. He is fumbling with wads of folded newspapers contents bills, with which his clothes are padded. Quickly, he makes little tearing movement, he pinches ovals and oblongs and stripes from the folded bill, he teases it and pulls it, and then opens it, displaying four perfectly modelled filigreed figures cut in the paper.

A delighted murmum rises from the bar! Isn’t it clever? How does he do it? He ought to be on the halls!

From Houdini's book 'Paper Magic'.
Diagram from Houdini’s  ‘Paper Magic’, 1922.

For his next trick, the Young Man extends a paper ladder to the ceiling — perhaps learned from Harry Houdini’s 1922 book Paper Magic?

When Morton talks to him he discovers that he is well-educated and well-spoken but has been working at this trade for fifteen years. He’s evidently down on his luck, though his ‘wife’s people’ are paying for his son to attend a top public school.

It’s not quite clear how much of this is truth and how much fiction, and Morton does not seem to have been a nice bloke, but, still, it’s a lovely vignette. If we ever get to compile that anthology of writing about beer and pubs we sometimes dream about, this piece will be a shoo-in.

Main image: detail from ‘Posters in the Strand’ by Yoshio Markino from The Colour of London, 1907.

HELP US: Theme Pubs

We’re keen to talk to or exchange emails with people who worked at, drank in, or were involved in the management, design or administration (brewery side) of the pubs listed below.

The time frame we’re interested in is between 1945 and, say, 1980, so please pass this request on to any industry veterans, or veteran drinkers, you might know.

No recollection is too insignificant — we need all the material we can get.

It’s best to email us via or comment below and we’ll work something out.

  • The Bull’s Head, Handforth, Cheshire (bullfighting theme)
  • The Chelsea Drugstore, King’s Road, London (futuristic, boutiques)
  • The Dolphin, Liverpool (submarine)
  • The Gallopers, Bradford, West Yorkshire (fairground theme)
  • The Golden Arrow, Beckenham, Kent (train theme)
  • The Lord Protector, Huntingdon (Cromwell themed, apparently)
  • The Malt & Hops, Finchley, London (hops/farming)
  • The Nag’s Head, James St./Floral St., Covent Garden, London (theatre)
  • The Printer’s Devil, Fetter Lane, London (printing)
  • The Sherlock Holmes, Northumberland Street, London (er, Sherlock Holmes)
  • The Stonehouse, Sheffield, South Yorkshire (Elizabethan street)
  • The Warrior, Surrey Quays, London (space age disco pub — see below)
  • The Yorker, Piccadilly, London (cricket)

The Warrior, Surrey Quays.

This won’t be the last request of this sort in the coming months but we’ll try to space them out…

MUSIC: Pub Crawling Blues

We were tipped off to this by a documentary about British blues music Lenny Henry made for Sky Arts.

It’s from a 1969 LP called Black London Blues which is pretty great from start to finish and is available on Spotify, iTunes, and to buy on CD.

And, yes, that is Ram John Holder as in Pork Pie from the 1990s sitcom Desmond’s, who turns out to be a very interesting bloke.

I had ten pints of bitter at the volunteer of Gloucester Place.
I’m pub crawling… I’m the Ram.
I’m pub crawling… I’m your man.

Sam Smith Hits London, 1978

Samuel Smith Brewery pubs are a positive fixture in London today but 40 years ago, there weren’t any.

We’ve often wondered exactly how they came to have such a substantial estate in the capital and had gathered that it was a relatively recent development. Now, thanks to a recently acquired July 1978 edition of the Campaign for Real Ale’s What’s Brewing newspaper, we have all the details. The story is entitled ‘Sam Smith Rapped for “Own Beer” Pub’:

Samuel Smith, the Yorkshire brewers, have run into angry opposition to their plans for altering their first ever Greater London pub.

The Tudor Close in Petersham Road, Richmond, is a favourite local ale house serving such brews as Wadworth, Felinfoel, Arkells and Brakspear.

But now its new owners want to make big alterations to both the outside and interior… and replace the wide range of beers with Old Brewery Bitter, their only real ale.

Continue reading Sam Smith Hits London, 1978

BOOK REVIEW: London’s Best Beer, Pubs & Bars

The new edition of Des de Moor’s guide to the best places to drink beer in London (£12.99, 333 pages, CAMRA Books) is more than just a list.

The cover of The CAMRA Guide to London's Best Beer, Pubs & Bars.The gazetteer which make up the meat of the book are solid. There is a mix of traditional pubs, trendy pubs, bars, taprooms, brewpubs and even the Leyton Orient Supporters’ Club bar. It covers territory from the outer edges of the city to its very heart. Some are old favourites, staples of similar volumes from the last five decades; others are current hype magnets; and, crucially, there are many of which we’d never heard of but now find ourselves wanting to visit.

The selection is broad but does skew, perhaps, towards a certain type of smart pub — the kind with liquid soap in the bogs and scotch eggs under a cloche. If you insist on pubs with no hint of gentility, this may not be the guide for you.

Continue reading BOOK REVIEW: London’s Best Beer, Pubs & Bars