Guinness in London, 1965

Which London pub was the best place for a pint of Guinness in London in the 1960s? None of them, really, according to Gerard Fay.

His article ‘My Goodness…’ collected in The Compleat Imbiber Vol. 8, published in 1965 and edited by Cyril Ray, is another source of information on a subject we’ve been circling round and prodding at for a couple of years now: Irish pubs before ‘Irish Pubs’ and the high status of Guinness before Guinness®. There have been a few blog posts here, a substantial article at All About Beer, and there’s also a bit on this in the upcoming book, 20th Century Pub. (Although we cut a lot from that section in the final edit.) But it’s always good to have new nuggets of information.

Fay was London editor of the Guardian until 1966 and died in 1969 at the age of 55. Their obituary for him is weirdly vague about his origins (‘of Irish stock with strong Lancashire connections’) but he seems to have spent most of his childhood in Dublin and certainly described himself as a ‘Dublin boy’. As a Fleet Street diehard he worked in the vicinity of some of the best-known Irish pubs in London and here’s what he had to say about them:

There were once three Mooneys near each other in London — Holborn, Fleet Street and, to fortify the walker’s spirits between the two, Fetter Lane. Before the coming of Formica the Fleet Street one was distinguished by being more like a genuine Dublin pub than anything left in the City of Dublin itself — neither Fetter Lane nor Holborn was of the right shape. The argument often raged about which of the three produced the best pint of Guinness, and the verdict usually went to Fetter lane because of some virtue in the cellarage. To a coarse palate the Fetter Lane pint seemed as smooth as any drawn in any Dublin pub chosen by serious-minded drinkers as a ‘good house for a pint’. Visiting Dubliners denied this and would have none of the English blarney about Park Royal brewery being the equal of St James’s Gate.

Tipperary back bar.

Once again, there’s a suggestion of mysticism and magic around Guinness, and especially the stuff from Dublin rather than the London-brewed (Park Royal) product. Fifty years on this kind of thing is still heard even though the time when Guinness was anything other than a standardised product was in the process of passing even as Fay was writing:

As Guinness is beer, it is subject to all the complications of cellerage and of being properly kept — though the introduction of metal casks has done away with a lot of this… [The] argument is seldom heard now — the Holborn Mooney’s closed when the lease expired: the others both use metal containers and continue to sell their large and increasing quota.

The Fetter Lane Mooney’s, AKA The Shamrock AKA The Magpie & Stump, is long gone but the Fleet Street branch — The Tipperary — is still there. When we visited a couple of years ago we rather liked it. It looks like a tourist trap but, with veteran Irish staff and mostly Irish customers, didn’t feel like one, and is rather gorgeously decorated, having reverted to something like its pre-Formica look. It’s at least worth sticking your nose in the door next time you pass, even if Guinness isn’t quite the draw it used to be.

Truman’s Post-War Pubs, 1967

This set of pictures and accompanying notes come from editions of the Truman Hanbury & Buxton in-house magazine, the Black Eagle Journal, published in 1967.

As before, we’ve tried to include information on when buildings were actually opened; credits for photographers and architects where available; and updates on how the buildings look 50 years on.

1. The Elephant & Castle, London

Exterior of the Elephant & Castle, a brutalist block.

We’re starting with a bit of a superstar pub — one many of us will have heard of, if not visited, and after which this whole area of London is named. We’ve got an earlier article from the Licensed Victuallers’ Gazette boasting about the modernisation of the pub in 1900. By the mid-1960s, when the area was being comprehensively redeveloped, that Victorian pub was doomed.

The idea for this uncomprisingly brutal new design seems to have come from the Greater London Council’s planners and the developer’s architect Ernő Goldfinger who suggested that ‘the public house should appear to float on glass’. Truman’s in-house architect, Frederick G. Hall, interpreted that instruction as above, his design being implemented by A.P. Ciregna. It’s nice that in this case we not only have an architect’s credit but also a photo of Mr Hall drinking the first pint pulled at the new pub while being applauded by brewery director Sir Thomas Buxton.

F.G. Hall drinks the first pint at the Elephant in 1967.

Footnotes: pumpclips have definitely arrived by this point but that they are tiny; note also dimple mugs, which had overtaken ten-siders by this point.

Continue reading “Truman’s Post-War Pubs, 1967”

The Life of a Brewery Architect in the 1950s

The photo above is from 1957 and the young man at the drawing board is Reg Norkett, who we managed to track down.

We found the photo in the autumn 1957 edition of the Hopleaf Gazette as shared by Raymond Simonds on his website — a wonderful trove of archive material from his family’s brewery. It accompanies a brief profile of the Architects’ Department which mentions Reg Norkett’s name in passing.

Without any great expectations we Googled him and found his address on the website of a professional organisation for architects; we wrote him a letter and have since exchanged a few emails. What follows is a lightly edited version of his responses to our questions with a little commentary from us here and there.

First, we asked Mr Norkett for some general background – where was he from, and how did he end up at Simonds?

I was born in Reading in 1936, educated at Redlands Primary School – then Junior school – which was the local school. I then went to Reading Blue Coat School at Sonning near Reading as a boarder from 1948 to 1953.

During my time at school I realised I was interested in a career in the building/construction industry as, e.g. a surveyor or architect. I managed to obtain the required number of O levels to commence professional training and was initially employed in the Borough Architects Deparment at Reading Borough Council, as Junior Assistant in the Clerk of Works Section. I commenced training in part-time study for a National Certificate in Building at the local Technical College.

However I was keen to be involved in the Design and preparation of drawings and so on, which I discussed with the Borough Architect. He  approached the Chief Architect at H&G Simonds, Mr Reginald Southall, who is shown in one of the photographs in the Hop Leaf Gazette which you forwarded.

I was offered a junior position in the Architects Department, joining the company in 1954, and commencing study part-time at the Oxford School of Architecture.

Continue reading “The Life of a Brewery Architect in the 1950s”

The Loss of Local Preference as Observed in 1966

Book cover -- H.A. Monkcton: A History of Ale & Beer.

H.A. Monckton’s 1966 book A History of Ale & Beer is these days interesting mostly for what its epilogue tells us about the period of its writing, and about the tension between local and global.

That section of the book covers the rise of keg beer and the trend towards consolidation from an industry insider’s perspective (Monckton was on the board at Flower’s of Stratford-upon-Avon) but there’s a particular bit we want to zero in on here because it chimes with our Session post from last Friday which touched on the globalisation of taste:

Throughout history certain districts have favoured their own types of beer. There are definite differences between those beers brewed in the North, in the Midlands, and the South. Recently the strong preferences of certain districts have begun to weaken, not because of a change in the customer’s palate but rather because brewery amalgamations are bringing about the closure of many local breweries, which has meant the discontinuation of many local beers… In the case of bottled beers the situation was usually accepted without undue trouble, but often customer reaction to the introduction of new draught beers was strong. So strong has it been in several instances that the substituted beers have had to be changed to a type more in line with local requirements…

Unfortunately, he doesn’t break this down much further except to observe that sweeter beers were particularly popular in places like London, Birmingham and Coventry with high concentrations of manual workers, especially during and after World War II when sugar was rationed. He observes that:

All the successful beers launched on a national scale in the ten years following the last war, whether pale in colour or dark, were sweeter rather than drier. Now, some twenty years later, the situation is changing again, and full-drinking bitter beers, both in bottle and in cask, are returning to prominence. It is interesting that some premises in the Midlands are now selling increasing quantities of draught bitter beers where only mild ales have been sold for a quarter of a century.

Dry, bitter beers, he suggests, are simply better suited to our climate than ‘soft sweet beer’ — an argument we don’t quite follow, if we’re honest.

But, anyway, that’s stage one of homogenisation, driven by national consolidation and distribution, and countrywide marketing: everyone drinking the same style whether town or country, north or south, toff or scruff.

Harp lager beer mat (detail)

Then in the last paragraphs of the book he forecasts (or, rather, fails to forecast) stage two: in the midst of a great push that saw lager’s share of the UK market creep up from less than 2 per cent to 7 per cent by the end of the decade he suggests a certain scepticism about its suitability for the English weather. He was wrong, and lager now makes up something like 70 per cent of the market in the UK, and the vast majority of the global market.

On a related note, Alec Latham has an interesting post on lager in the UK at Mostly About Beer in which he observes that ‘Lambic has leap-frogged Lager’. (It’ll make sense when you read it.) If not exactly a return to local tastes as described by Monckton the failure of new breweries to engage with the market for lager does at least suggest — in some small way, in odd ways — some sort of shift.

And, while we’re pointing outwards, here’s a thought on a declaration by Carlsberg’s chief executive Julian Momen that the Danish giant is considering acquiring a UK craft brewery. Rather than join the (admittedly fun) game of guessing at specific breweries that might be in the frame we’ll just observer that previous UK acquisitions by global players have tended to be conservative. Camden, Meantime and Sharp’s all had strong brands popular in mainstream outlets; flagship beers at accessible strength (under 5% ABV); in classic styles (lager, bitter, pale ale); and straightforward, easy-drinking takes on those styles at that. (We’re being polite to Doom Bar, there.) In other words, breweries that already act ‘global’ seem more likely candidates than those that go out of their way to express any particular local or otherwise distinct character.

Modern Pubs of 1961: Watney’s & Whitbread

This selection of post-war pubs comes from 1961 editions of in-house magazines from two London brewing behemoths, Watney’s and Whitbread.

To reiterate what we said a few weeks ago, the primary point of this series of posts is to put the material in these publications somewhere where other people can find it. And, for clarity, we should say that these pubs weren’t all built or opened in 1961 — that’s just when the magazines covered them. Where a date of construction or opening is given, or is available from another reliable source, we’ve included it, along with the names of architects and photographers where possible.

1. The Buff Orpington, Orpington, Greater London (Kent)
The Buff Orpington on opening day.
Photo: A.C.K. Ware. Architect: Alan Chalmers.

This Whitbread pub was the permanent replacement for a prefab that was erected as a stopgap immediately after World War II. The lounge, in black and white, was decorated with reproductions of paintings of chickens, the Buff Orpington being a breed of hen. The tap room (public bar) had lemon walls and a red and blue tiled floor — so, something like this?

Tiled floor and yellow walls.

Is it still there? Yes, under the name The Buff, and it’s yet another post-war estate pub run by Greene King who seem to be keeping it in good nick, even if it has had some faux-Victorian bits glued on.

2. The Royal Engineer, Gillingham, Kent
The Royal Engineer (exterior)
Architect: L. Mason Apps

The original pub of this name was at Chatham, near the Royal Engineers’ barracks. This new pub — a fairly handsome building for the period — was built by Whitbread as part of the shopping centre on a new estate at Twydall:

Where in the old house were shutters and frosted glass are now clear panes and airy louvres. Special attention has been paid to heating and ventilation; a pleasing feature is the lighting — more and smaller bulbs giving brightness without glare. Richly hued woods in servery, counters and doors set off with light paint and wallpaper… An unusual feature is the porcelain handles of the beer pumps. On each is a reproduction of the inn sign.

We can imagine some people reading that thinking that the shutters and frosted glass sound much nicer.

This one is no longer in operation having been turned into a takeaway restaurant fairly recently, it seems.

Continue reading “Modern Pubs of 1961: Watney’s & Whitbread”