QUICK ONE: ‘The Windsor Bars’, Birmingham

A morris minor in a city street.
Adapted from ‘1968-1971 Morris Minor’ by Leon Ferri, via Flickr, under Creative Commons.

Here’s a puzzle for you: which Birmingham pub was Ian Nairn actually writing about in his description of ‘The Windsor Bars’ in the Listener in 1960?

In Temple Row, near St Philip’s Churchyard, is a pub of some character called The Windsor Bars. At the far end are the usual offices, and of these the Gents is Birmingham’s least-known piece of architecture… What [the gents toilet] is is a beautifully detailed piece of Art Nouveau. Who did it and why I cannot imagine, but for the witty and elegant solution of literally the most mundane of architectural problems it would be hard to beat. The pub is part of Rackham’s site and is bound to come down within ten years.

Here’s the twist, though: in his 1967 postscript, added when the essay was collected with others in a book called Nairn’s Towns, he confessed that he had no idea where he’d got the name The Windsor Bars — ‘an aberration of mine’ — and confirmed that the pub he had in mind had indeed gone, or possibly had only ever existed ‘in a drunken dream’.

So, does anyone who knows Birmingham and the history of its pubs have any suggestions as to which establishment he might actually have been thinking of?

There’s no particular reason we want to know, it’s just irritating that Nairn let this loose end lie.

QUOTE: Ian Nairn on Pub Atmosphere

Detail from the cover of MODERN BUILDINGS IN LONDON: London Transport roundel and crane.

“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

We used a line from this in a piece we wrote about Nairn available in Back of a Beer Mat, our free e-book collecting various beer-related ‘longreads’.

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…)