Category Archives: pubs

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.

Types of Pub, 1927

In researching his book The English Public House as it is Ernest Selley travelled to various towns around Britain and concluded that there were three types of pub.

  1. The Food Tavern — a type of pub that ‘definitely sets out to provide meals… something more than biscuits and cheese, sandwiches and cut cake’. These he found mostly in large towns and cities and observed that they tended to serve food at lunchtime, to business-people. This statement seems to confirm the view that the wide availability of substantial food in pubs is a relatively recent development‘My experience, generally, has been that, outside limited areas, there is no attempt to provide meals on licensed premises.’
  2. Social Houses‘A tour round the public houses of any town will bring out the fact that certain houses possess greater social conveniences than others.’ These are the kind of pubs with pigeon clubs, cycling clubs, music, comedians, skittles, and cork clubs: ‘The chairman…says, “Gentlemen, produce your corks,” The man who cannot produce his cork has to pay for a round of drinks.’
  3. Drink Shops‘The lowest type of public house… which provides practically nothing in the way of social amenities except shelter and liquid refreshment.’ There is conversation but it is ‘about on a level with the street corner group’; there is sawdust on the floor; and hardly any seating.

How does that map with today’s pub scene? We’d say, based on our own un-scientific observations,  that the group in the middle (live music and pigeon clubs) has shrunk, or become a kind of heritage exercise; food taverns have become much more common — almost the norm; while barebones ‘drink shops’ have become what people now call ‘rough pubs’.

(And there are, of course, new types and sub-types.)

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…

Bits We Underlined In… Sussex Pubs, 1966

We’re reading every page of every one of those Batsford pub guides. This time, it’s Rodney L. Walkerley’s Sussex Pubs published in 1966.

The Victory, Arundel: ‘In addition to the ales and stouts there is a surprising assembly of genuine continental lagers…’ This would be notable even today, especially outside major cities.

The Castle Inn, Bodiam: We knew that Guinness owned a pub — just the one — but had no idea where, and had never got round to Googling. But here it is, right next to the brewery’s own UK hop farm‘After the First World War it was leased to Lord Curzon and later, by the National Trust, to Trust Houses… and then to the Guinness company, who possibly wanted to discover if running a pub was as good for them as their advertising assures us their stout is for the consumer.’

Continue reading Bits We Underlined In… Sussex Pubs, 1966

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.