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Some Beer Library Acquisitions


We’ve picked up a few new (old) books and magazines relating to pubs and beer and, as with this batch a few months ago, we think each is worth a few words.

First, Pearly Kingdom by Geoffrey Fletcher, which we got through Amazon for £8.80 delivered. Published by Hutchinson in 1965, it is a coffee table book of just over 100 pages, alternating short descriptive texts with full-page illustrations of typical ‘cockney’ scenes.

There are portraits of several pubs at an interesting time when the original hipsters were invading the East End. Fletcher laments the ‘self-consciously provided’ musical hall entertainment at the Waterman’s Arms, and misses the ‘spontaneous public-house sing-song by a bunch of locals grouped around a piano topped with glasses’. Of the City Arms, Millwall, he says:

The dress (expensive and flashy) of the younger clients and their taste in booze is something to speculate upon in these East End pubs — to those who knew them in the dark ages.

At the time of his writing, the Grapes, Limehouse, was ‘unspoiled’, and Fletcher’s illustration, in typically sketchy style, shows it surrounded by derelict Victorian buildings, and threatened by a precariously leaning gas-lamp.

His introductory essay recalls the Victorian era when

…pubs blazed their gaslit invitations from engraved windows… cheap beer, cheap gin, free clay pipes and a dazzle of light, and Impressionistic blur of faces, billycocks and barmaids, all reflected back kaleidoscopically from the rococo lettered mirrors on the walls.

Which reminds us of the William IV (we covet its mirrors) and of the fashionable young man, perhaps 19-years-old, we spotted strutting through Shoreditch in a jauntily-angled brown bowler hat. The 19th century never lurks far beneath the surface in London.

Covering similar ground with less flair is London Pride, a 1978 collection of etchings by Nancy Lui-Fyson, with text by Aubrey Noakes. We paid £3.50 for this 125 page A4+ hardback in a charity shop.

Printed on what seems to be a higher quality version of brown wrapping paper, it features many more illustrations of pubs than Fletcher’s book. This of Ye Olde Watling (formerly the City HQ of the Society for the Preservation of Beers from the Wood) is typical:


We’re not art critics but it seems fair to say Ms Fyson drew buildings better than people. For our purposes, Noakes’s notes are where it is at, recording in some cases details of the atmosphere and clientèle of particular pubs, which might come in handy at some point.

Finally, there’s Country Life magazine for 20 September 1973, which includes an article entitled ‘The Vanishing Small Brewery’ by Rex Wailes, for which we paid £7.75.

country_lifeWhen we spoke to Patrick Fitzpatrick, who founded Godson’s, the original Hackney hipster brewery, in 1977, he told us that he had been inspired by an article on this subject while travelling in India. He thought it might have been in the Illustrated London News, but the only piece that fit the bill in that publication appeared too late to make sense in the chronology. Too late for the book, we think this essay is a much more likely candidate, but await Mr Fitzpatrick’s confirmation.

It’s hardly an essential read — a puff-piece, really — but there are some nice photographs, including one of Arkell’s in its idyllic countryside setting, and another of the coppers at Ind Coope in Burton-upon-Trent. It it also the only instance we’ve come across of nostalgia for vinegar breweries.

3 replies on “Some Beer Library Acquisitions”

I think the term “spoiled” for a favored site is one of those social (or cultural) constructs: The Grapes in Limehouse is in Dickens, and perhaps old Chas would have regarded it as spoiled when so described many decades later by one who liked it as he found it when young. I first went to The Grapes in the 80’s and if I went back now, it might (or not) look spoiled, but it isn’t. It just changes and the bright young things of today will love it. As it should be.


Just now on the point of early or proto Irish pub theming, your suggestion to look into this through the prism of the Murphy chain is very interesting. I think you probably have something there, that either it was the first theme pub or provided a template and idea to those who perfected the plan down the road.

What a stroke of genius to do this! True, you had the old London porter now exiled in and seeming original to Ireland; you had the massive Irish expatriate populations of which the English and London ones were surely the oldest; and you had Irish whiskey, which predates Scotch whisky as the premier of its type. It looks a natural, but someone had to put it all together, and then package it for turnkey installation around the world. Probably the Irish pubs which had, in London then and maybe still, a genuine Irish atmosphere, provided the template and someone ran to package it. Similar thing to the “British pub” and the two kind of developed in this way in tandem.


Wapping, Rotherhithe, Mile End, West Ham… pretty much everywhere east of Bermondsey (or Whitechapel) used to be dog-rough, as I remember – and that’s only a generation ago. These days a two-bedroom flat in New Cross will set you back £400K (twice the *current* price of our three-bedroom house, in a fairly fashionable area of Manchester). Pricing-out on this scale, and in such a short time, has to be a cause for some concern; one lot of people drinking brown ale doesn’t just happen to be replaced by another lot drinking Hitachino Nest.

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