Category Archives: pubs

Not Enough Opening Hours in the Day

It seems that this is ‘Quirks of Licensing Law’ season here on the blog: today, a few notes on the problems, and opportunities, of neighbouring districts with different pub opening hours.

The 1921 Licensing Act gave magistrates the freedom to fix within limits the opening and closing hours of pubs in their districts. In London in particular, this led to great consternation among publicans, who simply wanted uniform pub opening hours from, say, 11 am to 11 pm.

It also turned the whole business into something of a game, as one report in The Times pointed out:

A curious effect of these varying hours is that anybody setting out to get drink during as long a period of the day as possible could begin at 11 am in Kensington, continue — if he took lunch — until 3:30 pm, start again at 4:30 in Stoke Newington, and by returning to the Holborn area have a glass before him until half an hour after midnight. (03/11/1921, p.7.)

What was fun for some, however, meant trouble for others. In 1929, Mr E.H. Keen, chair of the Holborn Licensing Justices, told the Royal Commission on Licensing of the result of Holborn’s pubs staying open until 11 while those in neighbouring Marylebone, Finsbury and St Pancras closed at 10:

Between the hours of 10 and 11 outsiders from all quarters pour into Holborn, and the scenes in the public-houses nearest the boundaries baffle description. The bars are overcrowded with disorderly men and women, many of them the worse for drink, and at closing time they are turned out with difficulty and behave outside in the most disgusting and rowdy manner. The nuisance to the neighbours is unbearable… The condition of things is a disgrace to civilisation. All decency is disregarded. (Lancs Evening Post, 05/12/1929, p.7.)

But it would take years for this problem to even begin to be solved — until the 1961 Licensing Act, as far as we can tell — during which time the strategies of drinkers became cleverer and more elaborate as they learned of more dodges and tricks.

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Sun Trap

Near the end of last year’s wonderfully elongated summer, we managed to make like we were on holiday and sit outside the Yacht Inn in Penzance drinking lager on a still, warm evening in late September.

The memory of that perfect moment got us through a gloomy winter until, last Sunday, we welcomed Spring by returning to the same table in the same pub for a few Spanish-style cañas of St Austell’s increasingly impressive Korev.

The pub, a pleasingly modest bit of provincial art deco, is painted white, while the granite walls of the public garden across the road (complete with palm trees) break the breeze from the sea, giving that particular spot, around that one rickety iron table, the same dry, baking heat as a square in Seville even on a fairly cool day.

It was nice to drink cold beer, get warm through to our bones, and feel our foreheads turning just a little pink.

Bring on the summer — we’re ready.

Bona Fide Travellers: Fibbing For a Pint

Until 1921, while British pub opening hours were restricted by law, there was a loop-hole: publicans could sell booze to ‘bona fide travellers’.

We haven’t been able to pin down exactly when this loophole was introduced but an 1839 House of Commons debate mentions that ‘Landlords are entitled, under the Licensing Act, to serve bona fide travellers’.

What constituted a bona fide traveller, however, was much debated, and tested in courts up and down the country. In 1864, the Court of Common Plea upheld an appeal against magistrates in Birmingham and declared that ‘parties out for a stroll’ were just as much bona fide as those on business, so that, as long as you had walked a bit beforehand (i.e. from your village to the next one,) it was perfectly OK for a pub to serve you ‘during Church hours’ on a Sunday. (London Standard, 19/11, p.4.)

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A Kingsand-Cawsand Pub Crawl

A short way across the water from Plymouth, in what is sometimes called the forgotten corner of Cornwall, lie the conjoined coastal villages of Kingsand and Cawsand, blessed with four pubs between them.

We arrived on foot along the South West Coast Path just as the day was growing dimpsy and the evening fires had been lit. Dipping down from the cliffside into town we passed pretty pastel-coloured cottages, mostly holiday homes shuttered and hibernating.

We were momentarily anxious: what if the pubs are seasonal? Then we passed the Rising Sun, with its old Courage cockerel and peeling paint, the windows of which glowed with orange light. Someone with their back to us in the window seat laughed so heartily their whole body heaved. This seemed to bode well for our pub crawl.

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The Pub: Where Grown-Ups Make Friends

Last week, we saw something really sweet: two men in their fifties making friends in the pub.

When you’re a kid, making friends is easy — you just run up and say, ‘Can I play?’ and, about an hour later, you might well be BEST FRIENDS FOREVER — but once you’re older than, say, 22, it suddenly becomes a strangely big deal.

The pub is about the only place we can think of where that line can be crossed, albeit with a little residual awkwardness.

In this case, Bloke 1 was sitting in the corner at the bar making conversation with the much younger, bored-looking bar staff, when Bloke 2 entered with his dog.

Bloke 2 ordered a pint and, crucially, stayed at the bar to drink it, rather than scurrying off to a quiet corner with his newspaper. As he took the first sip, Bloke 1 made his move, pointing at the dog. ‘What breed is she?’

They talked dogs for a minute or so until Bloke 2 said, ‘Are you on holiday, then?’

‘No,’ said Bloke 1, before adding, casually but hopefully, ‘My wife and I have been living in the village since before Christmas but I don’t really know anyone.’

‘Oh, right,’ said Bloke 2. He cleared his throat and stuck out a hand, muttering shyly, ‘I’m, er, Dave.’

It was really rather a moving moment.

When we left some time later, they were still talking and seemed to have progressed to buying rounds.

Main image: adapted from ‘Friendship’ by johnthescone from Flickr under Creative Commons.