Bits We Underlined in… The London Spy, 1971

Cover of the 1971 edition of The London Spy. (Bright red, peering eye.)

This ‘discreet guide to the city’s pleasures’ naturally contains lots of details on pubs and beer, not only in the section on drinking but also scattered throughout.

It was edited by Robert Allen and Quentin Guirdham and was a follow up to a 1966 edition edited by Hunter Davies with the slightly different title of The New London Spy, which we wrote about years ago.

In general, the 1971 edition is more sex-obsessed than the 1966 and, by modern standards, pretty obnoxious in places. There’s an entire chapter advising blokes on how to ‘pull’, for example, which is supposed to be cheeky but now just reads as incredibly creepy. Conning your way into halls of residence for young women and stalking around the corridors harassing anyone you bump into is one particularly sociopathic suggestion. There are fewer contributors than in 1966 but some big names still appear, not least Sir John Betjeman and Bruce Chatwin.

Anyway, let’s dive in.

Continue reading “Bits We Underlined in… The London Spy, 1971”

PLAYLIST: 20th Century Pub

When we’re writing anything substantial we often find it useful to put together a soundtrack. Here’s the one we made for our new book, 20th Century Pub, which is due back from the printers anytime…. now.

It’s a funny old bunch of songs, some chosen because we like them, others because they evoke a mood or period. We could easily have included 50 songs from the 1920s to the 1940s that we listened to endlessly while working on the earlier portions of the book.

You’ll find the full playlist on Spotify here:

And below there are notes on each track along with YouTube videos where we could find decent ones for those of you averse to Spotify for whatever reason.

The book should be shipping in the next week or so despite an official publication date of 15 September. You can order it via Amazon UK or ask in your local bookshop.

In the meantime, have a listen to the playlist by way of a trailer, perhaps as an accompaniment to The Pubs of Boggleton.

Continue reading “PLAYLIST: 20th Century Pub”

News, Nuggets & Longreads 17 June 2017: Reflecting, Rambling, Reading

After a week off here we are again with all the news and writing about beer and pubs that’s grabbed our attention in the last seven days, from the nature of community to psychogeography.

Phil Cook works behind a bar in Wellington, New Zealand, and this week reflected on the role of bars (pubs) in the community in a post entitled ‘A bar is just a church where they serve beer…

The ‘beer community’ is frequently celebrated as a special thing and one of the reasons this is a rewarding hobby to have, and a nice industry to work in. And that, broadly speaking, is right and true. But since switching back to bartending I’ve been struck more and more by the distinct — although obviously overlapping — nature of bar culture and the nice ways that a good one can have a community all of its own. The title here comes from an excellent Jim White song that gets stuck in my head whenever I’m pondering this and marvelling at the myriad ways that people use the bar to share little moments of celebration or of solidarity or anything in between, including weirdly heartwarming mundanity — and: beer.

(As always with Phil’s posts, the substantial footnotes are half the fun — almost material for a blog post each — so don’t skip them.)


A sign on a pub wall.
“The Piss Artist”.

Alec Latham continues to use beer and pubs as a hook on which to hang ambitious attempts at proper writing. In his most recent post he retraces the route he took to drink his first legal pint as an 18-year-old, with birth certificate in hand, 20 years ago:

In 1996, I was like a boy queuing for the fun house peeking through the canvas to glimpse the attractions within… I’d gone through the yellow pages to ring the Harrow in advance to confirm the opening times. It feels so weird writing this now. Two decades ago pubs didn’t have websites and even if they did, I had no mechanism to view them.


Weldwerks Brewing.
Weldwerks Brewing Co.

For Craft Beer & Brewing magazine Tom Wilmes has spoken to several US craft brewers about the difficulties that come with sudden adulation and consumer demand. Yes, yes, we know — tiny violins and all that — but this is a topic that interests us with, e.g., Kelham Island or Cloudwater in mind. This bit struck us as especially interesting:

All of Side Project’s beers are extremely limited releases that King himself has brewed, barrel-aged, and blended. Even if he brews larger batches and fills more barrels—which he has—many barrels just don’t perform and are discarded. Most are mixed-fermentation projects that take many months to reach fruition. He could scale up and hire more people to brew and package the beer, but all of Side Project’s beers are a product of King’s singular blending, palate, and perspective. What does he stand to lose if that changes?


Detail from the cover of "Miracle Brew"

We have a copy of Pete Brown’s new book Miracle Brew and but haven’t got round to reading it yet, hence no review. Ed Wray has, though, and breaks it down here in nitpicking detail:

The book is a pleasure to read, and the author travels to key places, historic and contemporary, in his quest for knowledge, and consults with a wide range of experts. The fact I’d finished the book on the kindle before the hard copy arrived is testament to how much I enjoyed reading it. If you haven’t yet got yourself a copy I can certainly recommend you do… And now I’ve got the praise out of the way I can start on the anal retentive OCB Wiki style commentary on where I think he went wrong, or more information is needed.


Pub, South London: 'Take Courage'.

Peter McKerry at Brew Geekery seems to have found his muse: the complicated issue of gentrification. In his latest post — dashed off, by his own admission, but those are often the best kind — he reflects on how London pubs have changed during his 13 years in the city, and what that says about class and culture:

One Stoke Newington pub that has stubbornly refused to [change] is The Yucatan. When I first moved to the area it was my local in the literal sense, and it was with joy when I first walked through the doors to see Celtic memorabilia adorning every available space, including a window sticker of a young Celtic-supporting boy urinating on the jersey of our erstwhile rivals. It transpired that the pub’s manager was a Dubliner and, like me, a Celtic fan. I henceforth became a regular, with 12 pm kick-off times ensuring an extended stay. It was, and is, regarded as dodgy by some, but while it always had an ‘edge’ I always found it welcoming. It also remains the pub with the most ethnically diverse patronage I’ve ever drank in, a phenomenon more common to London’s working class pubs than its more salubrious venues.


We’ve said it before, we’ll say it again: Glen Humphries’ ‘Five things about…’ is a great format for beer reviews. Here he tastes Firestone Walker Union Jack IPA and uses it as an opportunity to reflect on bottled-on and best-before dates.


And, finally, here’s a Tweet with which we strongly agree: these glasses are crap and an absolute danger sign as far as we’re concerned — we only ever seem to encounter them in pubs that think they all that when they ain’t.

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.

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