Old Pubs on New Estates in the 1970s

Knuckle Sandwich: Growing Up in the Working-class City is a study of the lives of Ordinary People and so of course features a pub or two.

It was written by David Robins and Philip Cohen and published by Penguin in 1978. The fantastic period cover design is by Red Saunders. The back blurb includes a quotation from ‘What’s My Name’ by The Clash and there’s plenty inside to interest students of youth culture, London life, and the polarised politics of the 1970s. As usual in this kind of book all the names are changed, including those of the estate itself, and the pubs. It’s possible some dates and other details were also adjusted to make it harder to pin down.

The overarching narrative concerns a particular pub which the authors call The Black Horse:

Monmouth estate is a ‘new’ GLC estate: it was first occupied in 1960 and is still (1977) incomplete… In the middle of the estate, as if stranded by the tide of ‘progress’, stood the old public-house, the Black Horse. A solid-looking building, with a large ground floor for business, a huge cellar, and two upper floors which had served as living quarters. The pub was scheduled for demolition, like so much else in the neighbourhood, and there were vague GLC promises of a community centre being built there in a few years’ time.

The cover of Knuckle Sandwich, 1978

What happened next was that local youths, with the guidance of radical youth workers, decided to take over The Black Horse and make it an unofficial community centre instead. With the backing of a local tenants’ association, the Open Space Committee, squatters moved in upstairs ‘quietly and efficiently’, acting as caretakers. Before this it was used to stash stolen goods and as a hideout for teenage gangs, so people generally found this an improvement.

The estate’s other pub, called here The Cross Keys, was across the road from The Black Horse. Here’s how Robins and Cohen describe it:

The Cross Keys was the recognized headquarters of the local villains, the fraternity of scrap men, fences, shotgun merchants — another reason why the [Open Space] Committee would not go into it. (It offended their code of moral respectability — not one that was forged out of any deference to middle-class decency, however; it was more that they had a position to keep up.) He fact that the Cross Keys was often the quietest pub in the neighbourhood, and the brewers had withdrawn their franchise on the place, made some tenants suspect that the landlord must be involved in some close working relationship with his customers. Ironically, the local villains had an interest in the Black Horse… It was well-known they were after the lead and timbers contained in the old building. This was one of the main reasons why the committee had backed the squat, to prevent the roof mysteriously disappearing one night.

Near The Cross Keys was a dosshouse for old men and Irish labourers, the so-called ‘Gallagher lads’ who frequented the public bar of the Cross Keys:

By all accounts, Gallagher ran a tight racket and exploited his clients for whatever he could get out of them. He had made a considerable fortune in this rough trade. The area surrounding the Black Horse was considered dangerous largely because of his these lads’ presence. Before it closed the Black Horse had been their main drinking place. Unlike the Cross Keys it had been rough inside. A few weeks before closure, the public bar had been the scene of a stand-up fight between the Irish lads and some black workers living in the vicinity. The reputation of the Black Horse as a dangerous and undesirable place to go remained with it to some degree after it closed for business and opened for the community.

Map from Knuckle Sandwich.

Over the course of the book we learn that the downstairs of The Black Horse was converted into a disco but then, with rumours of sex and drug use among the teenagers, tensions arose and the estate elders withdrew their support. The pub was then systematically wrecked and then burned down in what the authors describe as a ‘professional job’:

Three men had been seen entering the place — with a key — shortly before the wrecking was discovered. They, if it was they, had worked quietly, professionally, unemotionally. Who were they? One is tempted to say simply the self-appointed executioners of the sentence of this community on the ‘notorious’ old pub…

This all seems very interesting in the context of the 2010s and the rise of social-enterprise community pubs. These days such an attempt at revitalisation would never involve squatters and teenagers and the pub would probably remain a pub even if it did gain peripheral functions as well.

One question to which we can’t easily find an answer is where The Black Horse really was, or what it was really called. Based on the map in the book we reckon the Monmouth Estate is actually the Bemerton Estate, off the Caledonian Road. Assuming the pubs are placed somewhat accurately that means The Black Horse was probably really The Pembroke Castle which people seem to recall as being demolished c.1972-3 — perhaps actually when it was boarded up? Or maybe Robins and Cohen obfuscated the dates a bit, too. And the Cross Keys must surely have been — this is a weird name — The Cobbled Fighter.

Or maybe not. If you know for sure one way or another — perhaps you grew up round there, or have access to local newspapers from the period — do drop us a line or comment below.

UPDATE 11:30 24/04/2017: Ewan of Pubology fame has looked at some maps and reckons The Cross Keys must have been The Independent on its original site. The Cobbled Fighter is a bit of a mystery, picked up via Pubs Galore, but might have been a short-lived name for the same premises.

UPDATE 15:20 24/04/2017: Cobbled Fighter link changed from defunct pubology.co.uk page to pubsgalore.co.uk

Only a Northern Brewer

David Pollard, 1977.

This is the story of a first-wave British microbrewery that came and went, and of which little is remembered more than 40 years on: Pollard’s of Stockport, in Greater Manchester.

A handful of small new breweries opened in the early 1970s, and the Campaign for Real Ale had come into existence, but it was only after 1975 that a kind of chain reaction seems to have been triggered. CAMRA membership kept climbing, hitting 30,000 by March that year, and specialist pubs sprouting across the country to cater for ‘the real ale craze’. New brewers began to appear in ever greater numbers, too, and among the original set was Pollard’s of Reddish Vale in Stockport, run by a towering man with a drooping moustache and thick sideburns – David Pollard.

Pollard left school and went straight into the brewing trade in 1950, working alongside his father, George, as an apprentice at Robinson’s in Stockport. He went on thereafter to take jobs at various breweries across England, finding himself repeatedly shunted on as, one by one, they fell to the takeover mania of the Big Six. He became increasingly angry and frustrated, as expressed in a 1975 article in the Observer:

The accountants and engineers had started running things. All the big firms wanted were pasteurised, carbonated beers with no taste or character.

In around 1968 he started his own business – a small shop selling home brewing equipment and ingredients, on Hillgate in Stockport. Until 1963 home brewing had needed a license but when Chancellor of the Exchequer Reginald Maudlin removed that requirement, a small boom commenced. Newspapers and magazines were filled with recipes and how-to guides, and Boots the Chemist began to sell brewing kits to a new band of enthusiasts. Amidst all that excitement, Pollard’s shop was a success, and soon moved to larger premises on nearby Buxton Road.

Therapeutic as home brewing might have been for him, however, what he really wanted to be doing was making beer for sale in pubs and clubs. Buoyed by the rise of CAMRA, and perhaps aware of the recent small brewery openings in Litchborough and Selby, he bought £5,000 worth of new brewing equipment, and invested a further £5,000 in premises and ingredients. The site he chose, largely because it was cheap and the water was good, was a small unit in the recently-opened Reddish Vale Industrial Estate in the countryside south of Manchester, where the low, red-brick buildings of a substantial 19th Century printing plant had been converted into workshops.

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Pub Design Advice from c.1968

Chris Bates worked as an interior designer for Allied Breweries (Ind Coope/Ansell’s/Tetley) between 1968 and 1970 and recently rediscovered a handbook he was given on joining the company. He kindly sent it to us to have a look at.

Before we arrange to have it added to the collection at the National Brewing Library at Oxford Brookes, where we previously dispatched The Kegronomicon, we thought we’d share some details from it here.

No author is mentioned but, based on the style and the typography, we briefly wondered if it might have been put together by the Architectural Press off the back of Inside the PubThen we recalled this bit from Ben Davis’s 1981 book The Traditional English Pub (also published by the Architectural Press):

At Ind Coope and Allsopps in Burton-upon-Trent during the early 1950s there was a group of architects whose good fortune it was to work under Neville G. Thompson as Technical Director and Carl Fairless (later Jim Witham) as Chief Architect… [Inside the Pub] became a ‘bible’ for them and their colleagues in London, Oxford, Cardiff, Burslem, and Leeds.

So we’d guess — and it is a guess, but we’ll keep nosing about — that this pamphlet is actually the product of the Ind Coope in-house team synthesising what they’d learned from Maurice Gorham et al and imitating their style.

The booklet is only 32 pages, with no pictures, and fairly sparse text, much of it comprising checklists and notes on surface materials, lighting and so on. What follows is, in our view, the most interesting stuff.

1. Distinctions Between Bars

Page 4: Distinctions Between Bars.
This section stands out in the context of the criticism directed at breweries by the early pub preservationists and other critics. The suggestion back then was that the brewers simply loved ripping out old features to replace them with characterless modern ones, the bastards. This passage rather suggests the opposite, although perhaps that final get out clause is actually the important bit, overriding everything else. Or maybe it’s that this guidance was written in the 1950s and, by the 1970s, this kind of thinking was on the way out.

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News, Nuggets & Longreads 14 January 2017: Spain, Sheffield and Sober Island

There’s been plenty of good reading this week from intelligence on the latest AB-InBev manoeuvring  to memories of 1970s Sheffield via a Sober Island.

First, the news headlines: AB-InBev have taken over Spanish brewery Cervezas La Virgen, as reported by Joan Villar-i-Martí at Birraire:

A rather peculiar move, in my opinion, if we compare it to the Belgian brewing giant’s recent operations, especially in Europe… La Virgen was born as a product designed for the Madrid market, and until a year ago it was basically focused on it. As a company, it has never quite been in the circles of the national craft movement, appearing in few festivals and without a significant presence in specialised bars. On the contrary, it has successfully penetrated the market with a craft-labelled product that delivers a similar experience to the ‘usual’ beers.


Fishing boats on Sober Island.
‘Sober Island’ By Dennis Jarvis from Flickr under Creative Commons.

For Mel magazine Angela Chapin gives an account of the dispute over the name and location of Sober Island brewery, which is not currently brewing on Sober Island, Nova Scotia, Canada, as the name might suggest:

One of the locals most excited about her plan was [Rebecca Atkinson’s] friend Trevor Munroe. He and his wife run an oyster farm on Sober Island, and the 43-year-old thought the brewery would be great for the community. Not to mention, it was to be a mutually beneficial relationship: Munroe wanted to help Atkinson find land; she wanted to use his oysters in her beer. Better yet, they planned to team up to attract tourists to the island with tours that would end with cold beer and fresh oysters… But the relationship began to sour when Atkinson delayed the construction of the brewery and started brewing beer at her mom’s place instead.

The story highlights all kinds of issues around provenance, marketing, and the meaning of local — is Atkinson exploiting the island’s quirky name or is she sincere in her stated intent to eventually move production there?

(Via @PivniFilosof.)

Continue reading “News, Nuggets & Longreads 14 January 2017: Spain, Sheffield and Sober Island”

Holding the Fort: a Sitcom With Added Beer

From 1980 to 1982 one of London Weekend Television’s top-rated sitcoms was Holding the Fort in which Peter Davison played a microbrewer. We spoke to the writers, Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran, to find out more.

We were first tipped off to the existence of Holding the Fort by a comment from ‘Dvorak’ on something we posted back in September. We watched as much as we could find on YouTube and were amazed by how accurately it portrayed the then embryonic British microbrewing scene. On the off-chance, we emailed Marks & Gran via their website just as the success of their revival of Goodnight Sweetheart hit them and they became very busy. We heard nothing until this week when we got an apologetic reply and an invitation to phone them at their office.

Because the way the timing worked out Bailey made the call, speaking to Laurence Marks while Maurice Gran made muffled interjections somewhere in the background. We’ve slightly edited the transcript for clarity and to remove some umm-ing and er-ing.

Two young men with facial hair.
Laurence Marks (right) and Maurice Gran in the 1970s. SOURCE: Marks & Gran.

From what we’ve been able to see Holding the Fort is a pretty accurate portrayal of what was going on in British brewing at the time.

Microbrewing had just started and we had met the man… What was his name? This was 40 years ago, our very first commissioned sitcom, so it’s hard to remember. He was the man who started a chain of pubs… What were they called?

David Bruce — the Firkin chain?

That’s him! He was always our adviser on brewing and, in fact, he provided all the brewing equipment for the production which was in the basement of our fictional brewer’s house in Tufnell Park, North London.

Our central character, our male central character, who we join in the first episode, is a brewer. The brewery where he works is closing and moving to the North. He and his wife, played by Patricia Hodge, have just had a little baby and they don’t want to move North, so she goes back to her old job as an Army Captain and he decides he can run a small brewery from his house.

And his assistant, played by Matthew Kelly, he’s a kind of stereotypical real ale drinker with the beard and so on.

No, Fitz, he’s not a brewer — he’s just kind of a layabout, but he starts to learn to brew. Peter Davison, who’s the brewer, is very clean cut. David Bruce always looked alright to me! Very smart.

Peter Davison was in Doctor Who at the same time you were making this series — is that right?

Well, yes and no. We made the first series in 1980 then he got cast as Doctor Who between series, so he was alternating between our series at LWT and Doctor Who at the BBC.

It’s odd that you’re so well-known but that this show is so obscure — we’d never heard of it and it’s quite hard to get to see. But there were three series so it must have been popular.

Oh, yes — hugely successful. It was, at one time, LWT’s top-rated comedy show. I have no idea why it’s out of circulation — I don’t understand the machinations of TV networks.

Were you into beer yourselves? Were you CAMRA members or anything like that?

I was a journalist at the time, in the mid-1970s, and was invited along to the first CAMRA beer festival at Covent Garden in 1975. I went along to what is now the London Transport Museum and there was every beer in the entire country, barrels everywhere. People were walking around vomiting, falling over… It was the closest we’d come to the Munich Oktoberfest, I suppose.

I was with a friend who was a much more learned beer drinker than me, and we worked our way round deciding which was the best beer there. We both agreed it was Hook Norton. In fact, we loved it so much, we found out where the brewery was, took a day off work and drove out there. There were three pubs near the brewery, supplied directly, and we drank in all of them. And funnily enough, it’s now my local brewer.

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Marks & Gran are still writing together. You can read more about their long career at their website, Marks & Gran, and they are also on Twitter @marksandgran.