We’ve been reading Victorian Pubs by Mark Girouard (1975; rev. 1984) which pointed us toward J.C. Loudon’s Encyclopaedia of Cottage, Farm and Villa Architecture and Furniture published in 1846. This being the 21st century, it’s available in full online via Archive.org, and has about 50 pages on inns and pubs (pp.675-726).
These designs are ideal templates rather than referring to specific pubs — has anyone ever seen an Italianate or Swiss-style inn in the wild? (Serious question.)
As ‘new towns’ and Corbusier-inspired estates were built in the rubble and green field of post-War Britain, pubs were a focus of debate.
At least that’s what preliminary research for one of several embryonic projects we have on the go suggests, though we’ve a lot more reading and pondering to do. In the meantime, here are a few nuggets we’ve stumbled across which start to hint at what else might be out there for us to find.
The argument seems to have been between, on the one hand, those who thought pubs were essential components of working class communities; and, on the other, those who saw pubs as part of slum culture, and so regarded this as an opportunity to sweep away a ‘social evil’ that was holding back progress.
Now, we’re not sure if the world needs beer architects, or if the term is one we’d like to see stick, but it’s an interesting way of framing the discussion.
Until fairly recently, there were no architects — only builders, and, later, master builders. Then came people like Christopher Wren — intelligent to the point of genius, and bred to practice good taste at a pitch most humans can’t detect — who made a living conceiving of buildings or estates; sketching them; modelling them… and then contracting someone else to get their hands dirty in the construction.
For those of us who feel sad whenever a pub vanishes, this is a sad life. Progress, reconstruction, town-planning, war, all have one thing in common: the pubs go down before them like poppies under the scythe.
Maurice Gorham, The Local, 1939
Early in 2012, regulars at the Ivy House, a 1930s pub in Nunhead, South London, were stunned when its owners, Enterprise Inns, gave the manager a week’s notice and boarded the building up.
Howard Peacock, a secondary school teacher in his 30s who regarded the Ivy House as his ‘local’, felt what he calls a ‘sense of massive injustice’:
[The] pub was one that should have been able to stay open in any fair trading environment. The small local pubco that was running it… had been making a go of it even with restricted stocking options and limited profit margins thanks to the beer tie…
But he and his fellow drinkers (Tessa Blunden, Emily Dresner, Stuart Taylor and Hugo Simms) did something more than merely grumble and begin the hunt for a new haunt: instead, they launched a campaign to SAVE THE IVY HOUSE!
Nowadays, the idea of a community campaign to save a pub hardly seems remarkable — they are seen as an endangered species, the cruel property developers’ harpoons glancing off their leathery old skin — but a hundred years ago, thing were very different. Then, a cull was underway.
Maurice Gorham’s best-known books on pubs are The Local (1939) and Return to the Local (1949), neither of which we have yet read. What we did acquire, thanks to a tip from Herb Lester, was a battered copy of Inside the Pub (1950), a pub designer’s manual which Gorham wrote with Harding McGregor (‘H. McG.’) Dunnet for the Architectural Press.
It’s an interesting book for various reasons but what leapt out at us were the opening lines of the introduction by J.M. Richards, on the subject of the alchemy of pub atmosphere:
If I were asked what are the qualities I would like to find in a pub I would say simply, ‘the right atmosphere’, and if asked to be a little more precise I would say that the right atmosphere is one which provides warmth, cheerfulness and a sense of seclusion and one in which the charm of the familiar is somehow combined with a sense of something intriguing just round the corner. A pub should make people feel at home and yet have the capacity to lift them a little out of themselves.
Later in the book, Dunnet says that many pubs built just before the war suffer from the lack of nooks and dividers, offering only a ‘large bleak interior’; they are sometimes ‘indistinguishable from post offices or banks’; they ‘deny the whole pub tradition and only succeed in discouraging the customer from joining his cronies round the kitchen chimney corner’.
We can think of a few pubs to which that description would apply.