Estate pubs, as they’re sometimes called though not all are actually on housing estates, are not always terribly attractive — sometimes cheaply built, they were often victim to panicked plastic-Victorian makeovers in the 1970s, and then subject to decades of neglect. Nonetheless, they’re an important part of our landscape which is in real danger of disappearing. (And, remember, Victorian pubs were once considered tasteless disposable crap, too.)
“There is something more than a nodding acquaintance between the old Painswick folk and the incomers now, but it is a wary relationship… It is to the Falcon on the main street, or to the even more worldly pub a few miles up the road, that the gentlemen repair for their whiskies and sodas; the villagers — or, as they like to call themselves, the working classes — are more likely to be found with a pint of beer or cider in the Royal Oak or the Golden Hart, which are not half so smart.”
The magazine of the Consumers’ Association was only three years’ old when, in August 1960, it published its first report on the state of British beer.
Covering seven full pages, the article covers 25 draught bitters, 16 draught milds, and around 80 other beers in bottles and cans:
With about 300 brewers making nearly 4,000 different brews, a full, or even representative, coverage of every area has been impossible. We have, however, chosen all the nationally distributed beers, together with a selection from the larger regional breweries throughout the country.
Original gravity (OG), alcohol by volume (ABV), percentage of unfermented matter (PUM), hop bitterness (HB) and price are recorded for each.
Three years before the founding of the Society for the Preservation of Beers from the Wood (SPBW), no particular attentions is paid to distinguishing between kegged and cask-conditioned beers, and filtering, pasteurisation and method of dispense are not among the various quality criteria considered:
People drink a particular beer largely because they prefer its flavour and quality to that of other brews which may be available in the district. Habit and, to some extent, fashion, also influence their choice.
All the bitters were between 3% and 4.6% ABV; the cheapest cost 6½d per-half-pint, the most expensive 11d. The best value for money bitters, Which? concluded, were from Ansell’s of Birmingham, the Carlisle State Management brewery and Friary Meux. Flower’s Keg was notably poor value being the most expensive per half-pint but with a measly 3.4% ABV.
The draught milds all cost between 5½d and 6½d per-half-pint; the weakest was Watney’s at 2.5%, the strongest Hammond’s Best Mild, from Bradford, at 3.6%. The latter seems to have been an unusual brew: not only was it relatively strong but was also more bitter even than most of the bitters with 37 HB, and a PUM of 29 which suggests it was also fairly light-bodied and dry. The milds with most poke-per-penny were from Ansell, Carlisle SM, Charrington and Fremlins.
It’s a shame other beers beloved of early beer geeks aren’t listed, though — we’d love to see hop bitterness stats for the legendarily intense Boddington’s and Young’s Ordinary as they were in their prime.
In 1965, British mega-brewery Watney Mann opened a pub in Paris — the Sir Winston Churchill.
According to Helga Graham in an article in the Guardian published in 1970 (‘Mild and Bitter Spoken Here’, 27/09, p.15), this started when Watney’s hired Serge Herblot, ‘a very French Frenchman in an English blazer and tie’. He was tasked with driving a Bedford van with a mobile bar in the back around Paris and giving the hard sell to Bistro owners; they thought him ‘seriously affected by English eccentricity’ and weren’t interested. It was he, Ms. Graham says, who came up with the idea of building a pub, for which Watney’s put up 50 per cent of the capital.
The pub sat on the corner of the Rue de Presbourg and the Avenue d’Iéna, near the Arc de Triomphe. It was designed by a Russian, Vyacheslav Vasiliev, AKA ‘Slavik’, who said: ‘It is not a real pub — only a parody of the French bourgeoisie.’ (‘In an Alien Culture’, A MonthlyBulletin, June 1966.)
From the outside, it certainly looked like a Watney’s pub with the familiar Design Research Unit branding, as shown in the photo above. In the Red Barrel in-house magazine for April 1966, there was a short article about its November 1965 opening:
The bars, with their oil lamps and red plush seats are as unmistakably English as the Victorian exterior, and the name… Sir Patrick Reilly, British Ambassador, [opened] the Sir Winston Churchill by drawing the first pint of Red Barrel.
By 1968, Watney’s chairman, D.P. Crossman, was boasting in the company report (Financial Times, 04/01, p.6) that the Churchill was ‘without doubt the most famous pub on the continent’, and that Watney’s beers were ‘selling well’ at similar pubs in Cologne, Düsseldorf, Stuttgart and Munich, with Florence in the pipeline.
When in the same report he added that ‘Outside this country the image of the public house has never stood in higher esteem’, he was taking a dig at the government and their ongoing threat to interfere in or even abolish the tied-house system. Exporting the concept of the English pub abroad, opening up new markets for (easy-to-transport kegged and bottled) British beer, was seen as a vital insurance policy. It lay behind numerous instances of what we would now call ‘pop up’ pubs at trade fairs across Europe and around the world, beginning with the Britannia in Brussels in 1958.
A report in the Financial Times (08/02/71, p.14) summarised the extent of the British invasion by the beginning of the next decade:
This afternoon Bass opens its seventh pub in Sweden — the Francis Drake at Uppsala… All the major British brewers are now on the Continent. Allied has its Double Diamond houses in Rotterdam and Brussels, Courage’s golden cockerel swings over the Cockney Tavern and the Pill Box in Paris as well as other pubs in Amsterdam and elsewhere. Whitbread has 17 houses in Paris and, of course, Watney Mann is probably the daddy of them all… In Paris the red barrel hangs over The Clipper, The Sir Winston Churchill, The Golden Hat, The Mayflower, The Ten Gallons (opened only last month under the famous Olympia Music Hall), the Red Lion and the London Tavern. In Bordeaux there is The Drug Store. At La Baule… it has The Kent Arms. And in Northern France the Queen Victoria rules over Lille. Watney has another 25 pubs Belgium, 12 in Germany, five in Italy and one each in Sweden and Switzerland.
The same article also explained that the whole enterprise relied on marketing British beer as a high-quality premium product for connoisseurs, and jacking up the price accordingly:
In the more sophisticated city centres, with their cosmopolitan populations, the cachet of drinking bitter seems to have had some success, particularly in Paris where there is a distinct preference for top-class beers.
A pint of brown ale at the Winston Churchill cost 6s 6d in 1965, according to a writer in the Guardian (01/12/65, p.11) which, as far as we can tell, is about three times the going rate at home.
Even so, the author of the FT piece concluded, most such pubs were not generally profitable and were really exercises in ‘flag-waving’, and intended to hold territory in advance of Britain’s entry into the Common Market when the real fun could begin.
With the demise of the Big Six and their tied pub estates in the UK, their Continental pub chains also seem to have fallen apart, though it’s hard to say for sure as it happened slowly and apparently wasn’t considered newsworthy. Certainly most of those listed above seem to have disappeared or been renamed. We could not find the Kent Arms in La Baule, for example, although there is a pub called The Salisbury which, despite its name and distinctly English design, calls itself a ‘pub Irlandais’ — how many Whitbread and Watney’s pubs reinvented themselves in this way, with a pot of green paint, and a Guinness font where the keg bitter used to be? We’d guess this Irish pub on Rue Lincoln, Paris, is what remains of Whitbread’s King George.
There are still plenty of faux-English pubs — Charles Wells of Bedford has a decent French pub estate, for example — though it our impression that they aren’t as trendy as in 1970, and we’ve certainly seen some tatty-looking examples on our travels.
Much to our surprise, unlike most of the trendily-designed new-build pubs trumpeted in the Red Barrel in the mid-1960s, the original — The Sir Winston — is still there proudly declaring itself ‘Un des plus vieux pubs anglais de Paris‘. We’ll have to pay homage next time we pass through.
“Overall the trend in beer tastes seems to be away from the sweet dark beers towards bitters, but there is the strange anomaly of the increase in both sweet and bitter stouts, the trends of which vary surprisingly from time to time… [And] there is evidence that the public is moving from the highly hopped bitter beers to a smoother and blander palate. Young people particularly seem to prefer this kind of beer, and their popularity has been boosted by the strange belief that light-coloured beers are alcoholically weaker and therefore safer with the breathalyzer.”
J.A.P. Charrington, President of Bass Charrington, The Times, 22 April 1968.