As promised, we’re scanning and sharing pictures from the various magazines and books we’ve picked up over the years. This particular set tells a bit of a story.
During and after World War II, until 1954, there were strict building regulations — you couldn’t just build a pub when there was a desperate need for houses, schools, shops and so on. But that doesn’t mean there weren’t any pubs built at all. Rather, each case had to be debated with local authorities and central government ministries to prove there was a real need.
What you’ll notice about these pubs built immediately post-war is that they look very like those being built a decade earlier during the hey-day of the Improved Public House. (One reason why guessing the date of a pub isn’t always as easy as it should be.) That’s partly because ‘bigger but better’ remained the prevailing philosophy of pub design (Basil Oliver’s book was mostly written pre-war but only published afterwards) but also in some cases because plans had been drawn up and then put on ice.
The Balloon Hotel, Wollaton, Nottinghamshire
This is The Balloon Hotel was designed by W.B. Starr of local firm Hall & Clifford and built in 1951 for Tennant Brothers of Sheffield. It looks, to us, very 1930s, not least in terms of its scale. We haven’t been able to find much specific information other than that its name was eventually changed to The Wollaton Arms and it is now gone.
Did you, your parents, or grandparents grow up or live on a housing estate in England? If so, we want your memories of its pubs — or lack of them.
First, we’re interested in the period between the wars when big estates first started to be planned and built around the country, like at Downham in South East London, or Quarry Hill in Leeds.
The pubs on these estates tended to be huge, well-equipped, superficially resembling stately homes, and were often experimental: when it was first built, The Downham Tavern, for example, had no bars — only waiter service.
Here’s what used to be the Yew Tree, Wythenshawe, Manchester, built in the 1930s:
Realistically, to remember these pubs as they were before World War II, you’d have to be… what? More than 90-years-old? Still, we’ve got to ask. Alternatively, second-hand tales might still be useful, and any diaries, papers, photo or letters certainly would be.
And, slightly more realistically, recollections of these pubs in their later years, in the 1950s through to the 1980s, are also of great interest — how did the experiment work out?
Secondly, we’re also interested in post-war pubs — the kind built from the early 1950s until the 1970s, usually out of brick, often on the plain side, like this constructed by Truman’s in Bethnal Green, East London, next to the Victorian building it was to replace:
Pubs built in to tower blocks like those at Park Hill, Sheffield, are a particular blank for us at the moment. Was having a pub in your block convenient, or was going down in a lift to get a pint more trouble than it was worth?
We’re particularly interested in hearing from anyone who remembers drinking in these pubs when they were brand new, when the breweries that built them were full of pride and optimism.
If you feel inclined to help us out, please do ask your parents or grandparents — if nothing else, you might find their reminiscences interesting yourself.
But more recent memories are very welcome to — every email we get, even if it’s only two sentences long, helps us build a rounded picture.
In both cases, we are gently testing received wisdom which says estate pubs, almost by definition, are soulless, miserable and unpopular. Maybe what you tell us will prove that view right, or maybe it will help to challenge it. Either is helpful.
Or perhaps you recall moving to an estate with no pubs, as does this 2014 commenter on a blog post about slum clearance in West London:
When the time came we were offered a place in Lavender Hill. My mother was too ill to go with us, and when we got there my dad didn’t even bother to get off the bus. His only comment was “Not a pub for miles!”
Sometimes, the absence of a pub says a lot too.
Comments are great but emails are better: firstname.lastname@example.org
“The White Knight [in Crawley]… is a common type done extremely well, not so much in its architecture as in its atmosphere, which seems to hit off exactly the balance of friendliness and circumstance which a New Town pub needs. If there was less fretting over architecture and more over atmosphere our towns would be better places.”
From Modern Buildings in London, London Transport, 1964
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.)
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.