We’re hoovering up books about pubs at the moment and Behind Bars: straight facts about keeping a pub by Peggy Mullis got sucked in and clogged the filter.
Mrs Mullis was a freelance country lifestyle journalist who, with her husband Brian, took on the Crown Inn, Wormingford, Essex, c.1970. (She doesn’t give a date — that’s a guess.)
We Tweeted some bits about beer last week but the best chapter, without doubt, is at the very end, where her accumulated frustrations boil over, Basil Fawlty style: ‘The Customers’.
When we embarked on this venture, I made the naïve mistake of imagining that pub customers were ordinary mortals. They are not, of course. They are a unique race…
She goes on to explain the tension in the relationship: customers ‘pay your rent, your brewery bills, put the clothes on your back and the food on your table’, so they must be important. But they are also pains in the arse. (Not Mrs Mullis’s phrasing.) It starts out fairly tame but gets weirder as it goes, sounding like a transcript of a session with a therapist by the end.
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!
We might be the first people to be experiencing the sense of the death of a time. In two years, this freshly-minted century will have raised its first 18 year olds. There’s a change to the order of things. Perhaps it’s the death of the 20th century that we’re feeling.
The death of the 20th century. That’s a thought that hit us hard, and which rings true.
It explains the thrill of going to watch a retro-styled Star Wars film that was almost identical to the first Star Wars, which came out just before we born, when Harrison Ford was young and on the up.
It explains why, in the last few years, disposable concrete buildings that were at best ignored and at worst despised are now regarded with the same nostalgic fondness as was the Euston Arch in the 1960s.
All that concrete, pale-red brick, linoleum, muted Festival of Britain glamour… It was the landscape we grew up in, and now it’s disappearing.
It explains why in 2015 the BBC gave us The Kennedys, Cradle to Grave and Danny & The Human Zoo — three weirdly similar programmes in which comedians attempted to summon the spirit of the 1970s as they were actually lived, while there are still people around who can recall the minutiae.
Maybe, getting to beer and pubs (at last), it’s why old brewery brands such as Magee & Marshall are being revived — your grandfather, with his war stories and Sunday best, may be long gone, but you can at least drink his favourite beer.
This anxiety over the passing of time is certainly behind our current obsession with estate pubs and theme pubs, dismissed for so long as diversions from the true path of ‘pubness’, and now almost all gone, along with many of those who remembered drinking in them when they were new, their Formica fresh and blemish-free. We find ourselves following leads only to discover that the person who commented on a messageboard in 2007 died five years ago.
The only complete surviving post-war prefab pub we’ve identified (thanks, @TenInchWheels) the Arches at Bradwell, we now learn (thanks, Lorraine) is scheduled for demolition.
We gather around us bits of tat (ephemera, if you’re being kind) because that branded pint glass or now useless pub guide are physical connections to a drowning past.
What we’re trying to do, in our small way, in our own field of trivia, is cling on to the twentieth century as it slips away — to grab what we can before there’s nothing left, and we find ourselves orphaned in this weird future, like Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.
Did you, your parents, or grandparents grow up or live on a housing estate in England? If so, we want your memories of its pubs — or lack of them.
First, we’re interested in the period between the wars when big estates first started to be planned and built around the country, like at Downham in South East London, or Quarry Hill in Leeds.
The pubs on these estates tended to be huge, well-equipped, superficially resembling stately homes, and were often experimental: when it was first built, The Downham Tavern, for example, had no bars — only waiter service.
Here’s what used to be the Yew Tree, Wythenshawe, Manchester, built in the 1930s:
Realistically, to remember these pubs as they were before World War II, you’d have to be… what? More than 90-years-old? Still, we’ve got to ask. Alternatively, second-hand tales might still be useful, and any diaries, papers, photo or letters certainly would be.
And, slightly more realistically, recollections of these pubs in their later years, in the 1950s through to the 1980s, are also of great interest — how did the experiment work out?
Secondly, we’re also interested in post-war pubs — the kind built from the early 1950s until the 1970s, usually out of brick, often on the plain side, like this constructed by Truman’s in Bethnal Green, East London, next to the Victorian building it was to replace:
Pubs built in to tower blocks like those at Park Hill, Sheffield, are a particular blank for us at the moment. Was having a pub in your block convenient, or was going down in a lift to get a pint more trouble than it was worth?
We’re particularly interested in hearing from anyone who remembers drinking in these pubs when they were brand new, when the breweries that built them were full of pride and optimism.
If you feel inclined to help us out, please do ask your parents or grandparents — if nothing else, you might find their reminiscences interesting yourself.
But more recent memories are very welcome to — every email we get, even if it’s only two sentences long, helps us build a rounded picture.
In both cases, we are gently testing received wisdom which says estate pubs, almost by definition, are soulless, miserable and unpopular. Maybe what you tell us will prove that view right, or maybe it will help to challenge it. Either is helpful.
Or perhaps you recall moving to an estate with no pubs, as does this 2014 commenter on a blog post about slum clearance in West London:
When the time came we were offered a place in Lavender Hill. My mother was too ill to go with us, and when we got there my dad didn’t even bother to get off the bus. His only comment was “Not a pub for miles!”
Sometimes, the absence of a pub says a lot too.
Comments are great but emails are better: email@example.com