Category Archives: pubs

The Village Inn, 1944

In 1944, Faber published, on cheap wartime paper, a short book by local government official C.H. Gardiner entitled Your Village and Mine.

C.H. Gardiner, Your Village and Mine, 1944.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.

Native or Local?

Illustration: government stamp on a British pint glass.

Reading around the blogoshire today, there seems to be a connection to be made between two interesting posts.

First, Matt ‘Total Ales’ Curtis reports on the Hop & Berry, a pub in Islington, North London, which sets out to act a showcase for the booming London brewing scene. (See Beer Guide London for the list we always refer to.) Our first thought was: “Beer geeks visiting London from overseas will find a one-stop-shop very handy.”

But then there’s Joe ‘Thirsty Pilgrim’ Stange writing of a recent trip to London:

As a Traveler with Thirst I don’t really care about British ‘craft beer.’ It’s OK as a curiosity. As a journalist it’s interesting. But these days you can get aromatic, bitter IPA nearly anywhere in the world. Even Costa Rica. Even Germany. Why would I drink that in the UK, which has its own, special, underappreciated thing? Yes, I can see how folks who have drunk brown bitter all their lives might be bored with it. I’m not.

It seems that native style, then, might be a more important idea than local manufacture.

Thought experiment: if you were to visit Berlin, would you feel you’d had a more authentic experience drinking American-brewed Berliner Weisse, or locally made Cascade-hopped IPA?

Record Where You Drink For Posterity

"Traditional Country Ales" window livery.

Thank goodness for Nathaniel Newnham-Davis and his eye for detail.

An early food writer — the Jay Rayner of his day — ‘The Colonel’ wrote reviews for the Pall Mall Gazette as well as several books such as Where And How to Dine in London.

We are especially grateful to him for having taken the time and space to write at length about one of London’s 19th century ‘lager beer’ saloons. He described what was seen on entering, the light, the clientèle, the glassware, the food, the pictures on the walls, the floorboards, seating, taxidermy, staff, proprietor, food, and, most importantly, the beer itself.

Many other such establishments were beneath the attention of writers and so might as well never have existed for all that we can find out about them beyond their street address and the date on which their owners went bankrupt. (They always went bankrupt.)

It was much the same in trying to find out about pubs from the 1970s while working on Brew Britannia, Becky’s Dive Bar being an exception as it was too bizarre not to write about.

If you’re stuck for an idea ahead of ‘going long’ on Saturday (30 August), why not look long and hard at a pub or bar of your acquaintance — especially if it doesn’t get much attention — and write an excessively detailed description of it?

Zoom in. Get out your microscope. Examine its pores.

Future historians will thank you.

The World on your Sofa

It can sometimes feel as if drinking anywhere but the pub is a betrayal of ‘proper beer’, but it’s actually played a huge part in developing the culture Britain has today, and has broadened the palates of many.

That thought was prompted by this Tweet from Zak Avery, who runs legendary bottle-shop Beer Ritz:

In conversation recently, we said that we didn’t particularly enjoy beer festivals because they aren’t ‘how we like to drink’, which prompted the question, ‘Well, how do you like to drink?’ The honest answer is either (a) in the pub (once or twice a week) or (b) in the front room (more often).

Unless you live conveniently close to a good multi-pump real ale pub or a craft beer bar, then home is the only place to satisfy a spontaneous craving for a bit of strange. As we’ve said before, we like St Austell Tribute, but we don’t want to drink it every night, which is where a case of oddities from Beer Merchants or Beer Ritz, or even a few things from Tesco, fill the gap.

The majority of our most profound beer experience have, as it happens, occurred in pubs or beer gardens, but, for example, the first really aromatically-hoppy beer that ever made us say ‘Wow!’ we drank at home — Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, from ASDA, in, we think, around 2005.

Drinking fancy-pants beers at home is a fairly recent phenomenon which arose alongside the Campaign for Real Ale, meeting a demand among newly-assertive consumers for better beer.

Belgian beer didn’t start appearing in Britain in any great variety until the 1980s with ‘bottle shops’, run by enthusiasts for enthusiasts. One of the first, and perhaps most famous was the one on Pitfield Street. The founding of Cave Direct (Beer Merchants) is covered briefly in our book. Another such shop we read about but didn’t look into in great detail was Grog Blossom in Notting Hill, which was profiled in the Financial Times in 1989.

As for bottled British beer, here’s how Richard Morrice, a long-time industry PR man, put it when we interviewed him last summer:

You have to remember that, in the seventies, ‘premium bottle beers’ didn’t exist. Bottled beer was Mackeson’s, Bass, Forest Brown, that kind of thing, and usually came in 550ml returnable ‘London pint’ bottles, or in ‘nips’. There was a limited choice of regional brands and that was it.

In the late eighties, Shepherd Neame released a range of 500ml bottled ales, which was a risky enterprise, and there was a limited take-up by supermarkets. These ‘PBAs’ (premium bottled ales) sat in a price gap between the very cheap drink-at-home lager and draught beer in the pub, on a pence-per-litre basis, and the supermarket buyers just weren’t convinced. When Marston’s launched their range of PBAs as late as 1991, there were still no retailers really willing to take them.

[But, fairly] quickly… you started to get things like Marston’s Head Brewer’s Choice series, and seasonals, until there was quite a lot of choice.

If you want to experience the Michael Jackson vision of a world where beer comes in every shade and strength, from the beefy blackness of imperial stout to the barely-intoxicating pallor of Berliner Weisse, your own front room remains the place where you’re most likely to find it.

An Outpost of CAMRA-land

Trewellard Arms, Cornwall.

CAMRA-land is another country, overlaid upon and occasionally intersecting with the real world.

Like members of most minority nationalities, citizens of CAMRA-land have their cultural centres where they can mingle and speak of the old country in their native language.

These are pubs where games are still given space, open fires are prized, Good Beer Guide stickers cover window panes, and variety trumps ‘localness’ in the choice of beer on offer.

The Trewellard Arms, in the village of the same name beyond Penzance, near Land’s End, belongs to this world, if our fleeting visit on Saturday was anything to go by.

For one thing, the beer wasn’t the Cornish free-house holy trinity of St Austell Tribute/Skinner’s Betty Stogs/Sharp’s Doom Bar. In fact, all three breweries were rather pointedly absent.

Instead, there was Thwaites’ Pure Shores summer ale from Lancashire, alongside another ale particularly beloved of the people of Realalia — Wadworth 6X, from Wiltshire. There was one local ale on offer, but it was Penpont Cornish Arvor, which we’ve only ever seen on sale in Cornwall on a couple of occasions.

Black country pork scratchings, dartboards, CAMRA Kernow award certificates — all the signs were there. There was even a copy of Michael ‘Beer Hunter’ Jackson’s World Guide to Beer peeking out from a windowsill.

A CAMRA member who’d driven for hours to get to a holiday cottage might be dismayed to find a pub that would belong just as well in Sussex or Shropshire

But perhaps that’s not quite fair. Real ale isn’t the be-all-and-end-all — there’s also a long whisky-menu and a serviettes’n’tablecloths dining room — and it’s certainly a Cornish country pub: there are pilot gig racing mementoes on the wall, and so on. Locals come here to sit at the bar and watch the football, while tourists book tables for dinner.

For our part, even though it was in its mid-afternoon, change-over day lull, we loved this pub, and will certainly be back, especially as there’s a bus that runs from right outside more-or-less to our front door.

We’re not citizens of CAMRA-land, as such, but we do feel quite at home there.