The Mystery of the Rock House Tavern

We spotted the above post one one of our favourite Instagram accounts the other day and thought it ought to be a doddle to track down the history of the Rock House Tavern. Well, it wasn’t, but we think we’ve got there, and the solution offers an intriguing glimpse into the past.

First, yes, Liz is right– there is no useful information online, or in our copy of the 1975 pub guide, or in newspapers archives. Searching for mention of pubs around that location in more general terms, though, did point us to a 1986 book called City Pit: Memoirs of a Speedwell Miner by Fred Moss. It might surprise some people to discover that Bristol had coal mines but it did. Fred Moss was born in 1906 and started work as a miner in 1921. Here’s what he has to say about drinking, on p.37:

[Let] me tell you about “The Long Bar”. This consisted of a lane running from Deep Pit Road to Holly Lodge Road. There were just a few houses in Holly Lodge, only a couple of miners lived there. Now about half way up this lane there was a pond called the “Lilly Pond”. It was a pool consisting of water pumped from the nearby pit. In this lane there was also a single railway track, which was used to carry trucks of coal from Speedwell Pit to the main Great Western Railway line and of course the Midland Railway line. The track was also used to take trucks of small coal to the coke ovens and washing plant.

Now, near this lane there was an off-licence beer house. The afternoon shift miners would buy beer at this off-licence and on a nice sunny day would to to this lane and have a chat and a drink before descending the pit…. There would be twenty or thirty men either sitting on a grass bank of leaning against a wooden fence drinking and chatting before working and when the morning shift came up from work, some of them would buy a drink and stand or sit in the lane before going home. Yes! I would say that was the longest bar in the world.

We find this fascinating — another reminder that people enjoyed beer in all kinds of ways in the past, not only in what we would now recognise as pubs, and following all kinds of patterns dictated by their work.

Fred’s memoir gives us some hard information to work with and we are blessed in 2018 with easy access to historic maps, satellite imagery and Google Street View which means it’s quite easy to pin all this down.

Here’s the lane we think Fred is describing as pictured in an OS map from the immediate post-WWII period, via Know Your Place:

Map showing the lane, 'Brook Road'.

The Rock House is at the very bottom left corner, marked “BH” for beerhouse; the lane is Brook Road which runs off immediately opposite passing a reservoir (the pond Fred mentions?) and crossing a small railway line on the way to Holly Lodge Road, which also fits with Fred’s description. One small wrinkle: there is another beerhouse marked on the map, also near the point where the lane spits out, so maybe he didn’t have The Rock House in mind. But we still reckon all this, especially the BH designation on the map, explains why The Rock House is so obscure: though it may have started as a proper drink-in beerhouse c.1830, it probably became a purely take-out premises in the wake of the 1869 Licensing Act.

But that’s just somewhat informed guesswork. If you know otherwise, drop us a line or comment below. We’ll keep an eye out in books and archives as we go and, as Google Maps satellite imagery suggests the lane is still there and now a public footpath, we’ll also go exploring and see what we can see.

Main image, top: Bristol miners c.1906 via City Pit.

News, Nuggets & Longreads 24 June 2017: Markets, Marketing, Manchester

Here’s all the beer- and pub-related reading that’s entertained, educated or amused us in the last seven days, from football lagers to Mancunian tap-rooms.

Every now and then the Guardian does a really great piece on pubs and this week it’s Jessica Furseth on the endangered sub-species of market pubs — long a staple of Quirky London writing with their perverse opening hours and lingering earthiness in an ever glossier city.

Walk into a pub at 7am and you’ll meet construction workers, police, nurses and paramedics, people from the media industry and other office workers. Giulia Barbos, who tends bar at the Fox and Anchor [in London], says the rising price of a stout and full English has meant the crowds have moved from market workers towards office workers, who might have a bit more money to spend. ‘Now, people sometimes come in just to have breakfast,’ she says.


Red Devil Lager
SOURCE: Latas Futebol Clube

For Vice Sports Ryan Herman has unearthed the story of how several English football clubs attempted to launch their own lagers in the 1980s only to face a tabloid backlash:

On 1 December 1987, Manchester United held a launch party for Red Devil Lager at Old Trafford. Members of a team famed for its drinking culture, including Kevin Moran, Norman Whiteside and Paul McGrath, turned up alongside a collection of celebrities ‘du jour’… Indeed no party at that time and in that venue would have been complete without Coronation Street stars Michael Le Vell (aka Kevin Webster), Kevin Kennedy (Curly Watts) and Nigel Pivarro (Terry Duckworth)… What could possibly go wrong?

(Via @JimbaudTurner)

If you found this interesting then note that the site from which we took the picture, Latas Futebol Clubeis run by a collector of football-club-branded beer packaging. It’s in Portugese but easy enough to navigate.


The Black Jack tap room.

It’s Manchester Beer Week (23/06-02/07) and a couple of posts from Mancunian bloggers caught our eye. First, from Kaleigh, there comes a useful guide to the city’s brewery taprooms which looks worth bookmarking for future reference. ‘If I find myself in Manchester city centre on a Saturday, I generally end up in a brewery’, she says, which we know to be true from following her on Twitter.

Secondly, there’s a bit of PR from the event organisers. We normally shrug at press releases but this has some interesting numbers based on commissioned research:

The Manchester Beer Audit 2017 found 411 different cask ales on sale in venues throughout the Manchester City Council area, beating nearest rival Sheffield, which boasted 385 beers in its last survey, as well as Nottingham (334), York (281), Norwich (254), Derby (213), and Leeds (211)… The survey also confirmed that Manchester is leading other cities in kegged “craft” beers too, with 234 different beers on sale throughout the city, an increase in variety that has been sparked by the recent boom in craft brewing.

This was prompted, we assume, by similar claims made by Sheffield last year and greeted with some consternation by Leodensians, Mancunians, Londoners… In other words, a pissing match has commenced. Instinctively we groan at this — ‘My city’s better than your city’ is a tedious, more or less unwinnable argument — but, actually, a bit of competition probably won’t do any harm, and certainly generates attention.


Charles from Ards Brewing.

We’re always nagging people to write about smaller, less well-known, basically shy breweries, which is why we pounced on this piece by the Dirty Hallion. It profiles the the Ards Brewing Company of Northern Ireland which ‘has no website for… and a very limited social media presence’. We’d certainly never heard of it. There’s not much drama here but the origin story is interestingly typical and refreshingly free from Grand Passions:

Charles… was a successful architect but like many people involved in the construction industry, myself included, the recession forced a career change… A friend actually suggested brewing and despite no real experience in brewing, he was interested. The same friend taught him the basics and that was it, he was hooked. Shortly after he bought the equipment and started homebrewing. From there he expanded and built the brewery he now uses.

(This was actually posted last week but we only spotted it on Sunday.)


BrewDog Beers on a shelf.

Freshness continues to be the hot topic among antipodean commentators. This week Luke Robertson at Ale of a Time asks a fundamental question: is the long shelf-life demanded by the industrial beer distribution model fundamentally at odds with exciting, zingy beer? Well, that’s our reading, but here’s a bit of what he actually says:

The distribution model and marketplace for beer simply isn’t designed for volatile IPAs or unpasteurized lagers. The history of this model is all tied into pasteurization and refrigeration. While refrigeration is still just as important, pasteurization is a dirty word amongst small brewers. When sending your beer out of the brewery you can almost guarantee that your beer is going to end up old, and probably on a warm shelf.


Painting of a bearded Victorian.
William Everard

Only a few weeks after Charles Wells announced that it was selling its brewing operation and most brands to Marston’s comes another jolt: Everard’s of Leicester is handing off production of its beer to Robinson’s and Joule’s. You won’t find many beer geeks — even the traditionalists — with a lot of gushing kind words for Everard’s beer but this is nonetheless another worrying development in the health of Britain’s family brewing tradition. (Via @robsterowski.)


And, finally, here’s a thought-provoking Tweet from Joe Stange which is of course a generalisation and a simplification but…

Bottle Parties, 1940s

In London between the 1920s and 1940s, it was possible to go on drinking after hours if you knew where to go and had (technically) ordered your booze in advance.

The ‘bottle party’ was another of those oddities that arise when legislators attempt to manage people’s drinking habits. Its workings were described by Lorna Hay for Picture Post, 25 December, 1948:

To be admitted to a bottle party, you must be ‘invited,’ and to be ‘invited,’ you must be sponsored by one or more existing invitees. But you must also have an order with a wine company, so that the drinks you order after midnight are, in theory at any rate, already paid for, and are, in theory at any rate, fetched by wingèd bicyclists from the shop. If your merchant is not an all-night one, there is nothing for it but to bring your own bottle along in your own hands.

Throughout the 1930s, there are newspaper reports of attempted prosecutions of people running ‘parties’, such as this account from the Times of 27 July 1934 of the case against Mr. Bridgeman Rochfort Mordaunt Smith, proprietor of the Front Page on New Compton Street, Soho:

Mr Melville, prosecuting, said at a previous hearing that the Front Page was not a registered club. Nominally persons went there by invitation to nightly ‘at homes,’ or bottle parties. Visitors were required to sign a form declaring that they had been invited to a private party, and were contributing 5s. towards the cost of the party. When ordering drinks they filled in another form directed to the Maddox Wine Company, which read: ‘Please place the following goods on order for me. I will give you instructions at a later date.’

As long as they stuck to the letter of the law, however, they were able to continue trading, like half-arsed speakeasies under half-arsed prohibition. The Met managed to close many during World War II using rather draconian emergency powers which permitted them to target ‘undesirable premises’ (Times, 28 June 1944) but they couldn’t do away with them altogether.

Ms. Hay wrote about bottle parties in 1948 because they were under threat thanks to proposed changes to licensing laws which would make it illegal to drink anything at all after hours except in the privacy of private homes, ‘or go to bed’.

She acknowledged that London nightclubs, quite apart from the weird rituals required to gain entrance, were seedy — ‘lush and draped and quilted, over-discreet and over-dim’ — and expensive, with bottle party entrance fees at a guinea (21 shillings) and spirits at £100+ a bottle in today’s money. Nonetheless, they were necessary:

Yet people do go to night-clubs in London. Why? Broadly speaking, for two reasons. The first, that most people from time to time get the feeling that the night is still young, and that it would be pleasant to go on drinking for a bit in company. The second, that, what with the night and the wine and the music, it is a way of getting your girl a step further. Or, from the girl’s angle, of appearing so double desirable in this ‘romantic’ atmosphere, that her young man will want to get her a step further.

(We’re filing that dainty euphemism for later use.)

In fact, in 1949, the Home Secretary, James Chuter Ede, extended the hours at which night-clubs could serve drinks with music and dancing until 2 am, with half-an-hour’s drinking up time, thus all but doing away with the need for bottle parties, and spiv-like wine dealers.

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”

Bona Fide Travellers: Fibbing For a Pint

Until 1921, while British pub opening hours were restricted by law, there was a loop-hole: publicans could sell booze to ‘bona fide travellers’.

We haven’t been able to pin down exactly when this loophole was introduced but an 1839 House of Commons debate mentions that ‘Landlords are entitled, under the Licensing Act, to serve bona fide travellers’.

What constituted a bona fide traveller, however, was much debated, and tested in courts up and down the country. In 1864, the Court of Common Plea upheld an appeal against magistrates in Birmingham and declared that ‘parties out for a stroll’ were just as much bona fide as those on business, so that, as long as you had walked a bit beforehand (i.e. from your village to the next one,) it was perfectly OK for a pub to serve you ‘during Church hours’ on a Sunday. (London Standard, 19/11, p.4.)

Continue reading “Bona Fide Travellers: Fibbing For a Pint”