Tag Archives: Ian Nairn

Not Enough Opening Hours in the Day

It seems that this is ‘Quirks of Licensing Law’ season here on the blog: today, a few notes on the problems, and opportunities, of neighbouring districts with different pub opening hours.

The 1921 Licensing Act gave magistrates the freedom to fix within limits the opening and closing hours of pubs in their districts. In London in particular, this led to great consternation among publicans, who simply wanted uniform pub opening hours from, say, 11 am to 11 pm.

It also turned the whole business into something of a game, as one report in The Times pointed out:

A curious effect of these varying hours is that anybody setting out to get drink during as long a period of the day as possible could begin at 11 am in Kensington, continue — if he took lunch — until 3:30 pm, start again at 4:30 in Stoke Newington, and by returning to the Holborn area have a glass before him until half an hour after midnight. (03/11/1921, p.7.)

What was fun for some, however, meant trouble for others. In 1929, Mr E.H. Keen, chair of the Holborn Licensing Justices, told the Royal Commission on Licensing of the result of Holborn’s pubs staying open until 11 while those in neighbouring Marylebone, Finsbury and St Pancras closed at 10:

Between the hours of 10 and 11 outsiders from all quarters pour into Holborn, and the scenes in the public-houses nearest the boundaries baffle description. The bars are overcrowded with disorderly men and women, many of them the worse for drink, and at closing time they are turned out with difficulty and behave outside in the most disgusting and rowdy manner. The nuisance to the neighbours is unbearable… The condition of things is a disgrace to civilisation. All decency is disregarded. (Lancs Evening Post, 05/12/1929, p.7.)

But it would take years for this problem to even begin to be solved — until the 1961 Licensing Act, as far as we can tell — during which time the strategies of drinkers became cleverer and more elaborate as they learned of more dodges and tricks.

Continue reading Not Enough Opening Hours in the Day

QUOTE: Nairn on Northern Pubs

“The Vines was built in the last year of the [19th] century and every majestic detail is kept up as good as new… Tall and luminous, brown and gold giant pilasters combining elegance with immense force, and huge Victorian paintings between. Sitting in it, you feel ten feet tall, for it is the kind of grandeur that raises you up rather than crushes you. Drinking beer which is both better and cheaper than the metropolitan brew — any kind of Liverpool bitter is a good drop — you realize that London has nothing like this.”

Ian Nairn in the essay ‘Liverpool’ first published in The Listener in 1964 and collected in Britain’s Changing Towns in 1967, reissued and updated in 2013. There’s more information about The Vines on the CAMRA pubs heritage website.

Ian Nairn on Ward’s Irish House

“This is a basement under the angle between Shaftesbury Avenue and Coventry Street. It is not trying to be Irish; it just is. A big, bare room with a central zinc-topped bar; no concession to comfort, but on the other hand some of the best draught Guinness in London… It has surely got the fairies on it, though mentioning fairies in this rough, shabby, real place you might get some strange looks.”

Ian Nairn on Ward’s Irish House, in Nairn’s London, 1966.

(NB. before it was Irish, it was German…)

Not Beer: Nairn on BBC4

From Ian Nairn's OUTRAGE column in the Architectural Review, 1964.
From Ian Nairn’s OUTRAGE column in the Architectural Review, 1964.

This Thursday night, 20 February, at 22:00, BBC4 (the channel for swots) is showing The Man Who Fought the Planners, an hour-long documentary about architecture critic Ian Nairn.

As well as writing about buildings and places, Nairn was also a beer and pub enthusiast, as we explained in the Winter 2013 edition of the Campaign for the Real Ale’s BEER magazine:

[Nairn’s] contribution to CAMRA’s success came in 1974 when, rather out of the blue, he published a lengthy essay in The Sunday Times entitled ‘The Best Beers of Our Lives’. A passionate argument in favour of local breweries and regionally specific products, as opposed to ‘national brew’, it opened with this statement: “It may be the fifty-ninth second of the fifty-ninth minute after eleven o’clock, but I think there is now a chance of saving what remains of draught beer in Britain. CAMRA… had 1,000 members a year ago: it now has 18,000,
including me.”

He also, for this reason and others, has a recurring walk-on part in our book, Brew Britannia.

We’re not sure how much The Man Who Fought the Planners will touch on his love of pubs, but if it doesn’t end with Philip Glass’s Façades playing over a photo of Nairn holding a pint while the narrator explains that he drank himself to death, we’ll be very surprised.

We do know that Gillian Darley has been involved in the programme, and should take this opportunity to belatedly recommend the anthology of writing about Nairn, Words in Place, which she edited with David McKie last year. It gives a flavour of each of his books (some of which are very hard to get hold of) as well as an overview of his life. The chapter on his mid-1960s US road tour is, we think, begging to be made into a film by the Coen Brothers.

Subtopian Beer

Having come across several mentions of an influential article on beer by Ian Nairn which appeared in the Sunday Times in the early 70s (some sources said 1972, others ’74), last week, we finally managed to track down a copy at the British Library Newspaper Archive at Colindale. It was worth the wait.

‘The Best Beers of Our Lives’ is more essay than article and just begging to be anthologised in some kind ‘beer reader’. Here’s what he has to say on the disappearance of local breweries during the Big Six takeover binge of the 1960s:

…to extinguish a local flavour, which is what has happened a hundred times in the last ten years, is like abolishing the Beaujolais: it is red and alcoholic, might as well make it in a Eurocity to an agreed Common Market recipe…. the peasants wouldn’t know the difference . . . but the peasants are fighting back.

Though he’d been raging for almost twenty years against Subtopia — ‘the annihilation of the site, the steamrollering of all individuality of place to one uniform and mediocre pattern’ (Outrage, 1955) — this is the first time, as far as we are aware, that he had explicity applied that idea to beer.

And here’s what he has to say about being part of a niche market:

The choice. As a consumer, that’s all I ask. You can brew bland brand X until it runs out of your conditioned reflexes as long as you give me the choice. Otherwise I’ll drink Guinness, and there may be tens of thousands of others with the same calibre of unsatisfied throat.

Yes! Exactly! (Well, not exactly — Guinness isn’t much cop these days either.) He was right on numbers, too: the week after this article appeared, Michael Hardman told us, CAMRA received another thousand or so membership applications in an overwhelming deluge.

If you want to read it yourself, first check whether your local library service has signed up for this trial of the digitised Sunday Times archive. If the answer is ‘no’, then don your best moth-eaten tweed jacket, half-moon glasses and bicycle clips; get yourself to the Colindale microfilm readers; and wind your way on to page 33 of the 30 June 1974 edition of the paper.