Photography in the Pub

In some ways we’re in a golden age for pub photography as almost everyone now has a relatively powerful camera on their phone, but just because it’s easy doesn’t mean it’s simple.

Historically, photos of pubs tend to be of the exteriors. That’s partly because of the availability of lights, partly because the exteriors were highly decorated, and also perhaps because drinking has been, and maybe still is, a somewhat furtive activity.

There is the odd historic interior shot, more often than not taken by brewery photographers to document the decor, and thus usually eerily empty. But this one from c.1915, a favourite of ours, is an exception:

Interior of a London pub c.1915.Even there, though, it’s obvious they’ve been told to sit very still and not to smile so it hardly looks natural. Things start to get really good with Humphrey Spender’s photographs of Bolton pubs for Mass Observation, taken in the late 1930s. We’ve used a few on the blog before but here’s a particularly dynamic example, where you can almost taste the mild, smell the smoke and hear the clack of the dominoes on the table:

Men playing dominoes.
Image ref. 1993.83.17.07

Spender snapped quickly without necessarily asking permission and occasionally got thrown out by irritated landlords. Eighty years on, the results are totally worth it — moments in time, faces, relationships, all captured without varnish.

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What Colour Should a Pub Be?

Yesterday Tandleman (@tandleman) posted a load of pictures on Twitter from a 1960s Wilson’s brewery calendar. They’re great because (a) they show pub interiors, which is rare; and (b) they’re in colour.

We couldn’t stop looking at them last night: they’re so vibrant and the colour choices so… Un-pubby. Finally, stealing an idea from @CINEMAPALETTES, we spent a few minutes coming up with these.

1. Classic Pub

A photo of a pub interior with colour pallette at bottom.

2. 1960s Pub
Interior of 1960s pub with colour palette at bottom.
Source: @Tandleman

Even allowing for the difference in the style of photo — the former was snapped by one of us on a smartphone in afternoon light; the latter looks stage-lit and Technicolor gaudy — that’s quite a difference.

We might do a few more and add them to this post as we go. It would be interesting to look at a full-on craft beer bar, for example, most of which, we suspect, would be shades of cream and grey. And Samuel Smith pubs would be brown, dark brown, darker brown and black-brown, right?

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The Yacht Inn, Penzance, in the 1950s

Strange coincidences and connections have led us to a collection of family photos of one of our favourite local pubs.

A brewer we interviewed last week (Paddy at Crossed Anchors) noticed that we had a picture of the fabulously Art Deco Yacht Inn, Penzance, as our Twitter header image. He mentioned that his great aunt and uncle, Frank and Phyllis Glasspool, ran it from 1949-c.1959. He emailed his dad, who emailed a cousin, Susan Glasspool (Bottaro), who provided the following fantastic collection of photographs and said we could share them here:

It was very hard work there, especially for my mother, who did all the cooking (plus the extras for the bar, pasties, sandwiches etc.), a lot of the cleaning, and then ran the cocktail bar in the evenings. Hard to have any family life. Thank goodness for the swimming pool over the road — 10 bob for a season ticket and I spent all my summers there!

Pub sign with moody sky and sea.
The sign of the Yacht Inn with Mount’s Bay and Newlyn in the background.
A man in a suit sits at the bar while Frank directs his assistant.
Frank Glasspool (left) and ‘Lennie’ (white coat) behind the main bar of the Yacht.

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GALLERY: Not Always About the Beer

We spent the last week and a bit flying round the north west of England looking at (a) brewery records and (b) pubs.

Sign: Public Bar, Parlour.

We needed dinner near our hotel in Liverpool and stumbled upon Thomas Rigby’s, an inter-war pub interior where class distinctions and waiter service were alive and well.

The seal of the Birkenhead Brewery Company Limited.

On our way to Port Sunlight we stopped to wonder at the beautiful but empty shell of a pub half-swallowed by a bland 1980s building.

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GALLERY: Home Front Beer, WWII

We recently discovered the Imperial War Museum digital archive which is (perhaps surprisingly) crammed with pictures of pubs, beer and brewing.

Here are some of the best shots of ‘everyday life’ on the home front during World War II shared under the terms of their non-commercial license. (Click the ID numbers to go to the IWM website for bigger versions and more info.)

A mixed group of uniformed men and a barmaid.
Allied soldiers in a London pub, 1940. © IWM (D 1725)
A dimly lit pub with soldiers in discussion.
Home Guard members in a pub in Orford, Suffolk, 1941. © IWM (D 4852)

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