Not Enough Opening Hours in the Day

PUB SIGN: 'Public Bar'.

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.

Book cover: What's Yours? by T.E.B. Clarke, 1938.T.E.B. Clarke, author of the 1938 com­ic guide book What’s Yours?, was evi­dent­ly a mas­ter as shown by the chap­ter enti­tled ‘Round the Clock in Pub­land’ which set out a plan for how to ‘rev­el in the twen­ty-hour Pub­land day’:

Towards five o’clock in the morn­ing, tracks may be made for the mar­ket dis­tricts of Smith­field, Billings­gate or Covent Gar­den, where at this hour the pubs first open. It is true that only those with work to do in the mar­kets are legal­ly enti­tled to enter them; but that does not deter the true pub­man, who con­sid­ers that the small out­lay required to make him a meat, fish or fruit trad­er in a mod­est way is excel­lent val­ue for the right it gives him to drink at dawn with­out inter­fer­ence from the police or trou­ble with the Guv’nor.

He also sug­gest­ed, as an alter­na­tive, some sam­ple dia­logue to break into if a police­man should appear:

I tell you, old man, what with this present spate of heavy hoggets, and fat tegs down to six­ty-one bob, I don’t know where I’d be if it wasn’t for the springers.”

The pubs in Smith­field closed at 8 am when there was ‘a swift exo­dus to Covent Gar­den’ until 9 am. Then there was an enforced ‘dry peri­od’ until 10 am, dur­ing which time, accord­ing to Clarke, those in the know head­ed to Rom­ford, Ongar or Brent­wood…

for these lie in the east, and thus receive the full bless­ings of the Pub­land sun half an hour or an hour in advance of oth­er parts. (A much-favoured motor-coach leaves Aldgate at 9:14 every morn­ing and reach­es Rom­ford at 10.09.)

After­noons were prob­lem­at­ic and Clarke rec­om­mend­ed (a) on Tues­day or Fri­day, Cale­don­ian Mar­ket, when pubs opened from 10 am to 10 pm; (b) a foot­ball match, race meet­ing or the bar at Lord’s Crick­et Ground; or © the rather des­per­ate mea­sure of ‘bot­tled beer or spir­its and rides in a Pull­man to Brighton and back’.

His sug­ges­tion was to kick off the evening ses­sion in the City, East End or Kens­ing­ton, where the pubs opened slight­ly ear­li­er after their enforced after­noon break, fin­ish­ing the night in Hol­born or West Lon­don to take advan­tage of theatre-land’s 11 pm clos­ing. ‘Those who do not mind being seat­ed in front of sand­wich­es’, he con­clud­ed, ‘may now car­ry on till mid­night in almost any licensed restau­rant, after which it will not be dif­fi­cult to find one enjoy­ing its week­ly exten­sion night.’

Frankly, it all sounds exhaust­ing.

We’ll leave you with one last quo­ta­tion, this time from a 1964 arti­cle by archi­tec­tur­al crit­ic Ian Nairn, col­lect­ed in Nairn’s Towns (2013), which shows the glee felt by a ‘ded­i­cat­ed pub man’ (that is, a bare­ly func­tion­ing alco­holic) on dis­cov­er­ing a licens­ing hours wheeze:

For me, Brighton is a fairy tale come true, even to the means of get­ting there. I can leave my Pim­li­co flat at 8:45 and catch the nine o’clock from Vic­to­ria, which gets to Brighton at ten. Five min­utes lat­er, thanks to what are some­times inap­pro­pri­ate­ly  called ‘coun­try’ open­ing hours, I can be enjoy­ing the day’s first Guin­ness with the sea twin­kling away to the oth­er end of Queen’s Road…

10 thoughts on “Not Enough Opening Hours in the Day”

  1. 1964 was the year of Nairn’s Lon­don; I don’t think he’d qual­i­fied as a “bare­ly-func­tion­ing alco­holic” by then. That quote does show a rather alarm­ing zest in the first pint of the day, though.

    1. A flip­pant point, real­ly, about ‘ded­i­cat­ed pub men’, but Nairn’s Lon­don (1966) was real­ly his last real­ly great piece of work – Nairn’s Paris which fol­lowed was scrap­py and var­i­ous oth­er projects, such as a guide to the indus­tri­al north, fell by the way­side. All the way through his TV career, from the late 1960s onwards, he seems to have been con­struct­ing his sched­ule around pub open­ing hours, and was report­ed­ly only fit to film before lunchtime on most days, so its real­ly remark­able he achieved as much as he did.

      1. Poor bug­ger – not that he didn’t do all right before the beer lor­ry ran him over, and even for a while after­wards. Can’t help feel­ing there must have been some­thing wrong way back; maybe too far back for any­one to do any­thing about, though. The Soft Machine sax­o­phon­ist Elton Dean died of cir­rho­sis of the liv­er; when some­body asked him how he’d become an alco­holic, he said, “I first drank alco­hol when I was twelve. I liked it, so I car­ried on.” There but for for­tune, eh?

  2. Even in the 70s and 80s, there was a wide vari­a­tion in open­ing hours. Some places, main­ly in the South, allowed the pubs to open at 10 am, but fur­ther North it could be 11 or 11.30. Lunchtime clos­ing was 2 pm in a few towns like Worces­ter and Northamp­ton, gen­er­al­ly 2.30 in the South and 3 in the North, but as late as 4.30 in parts of South Wales. Evening open­ing was gen­er­al­ly 6 in the South and 5.30 in the North, but 5 in some places.

    Of course, back then, it was rare for a pub not to open its full per­mit­ted hours, except maybe for not open­ing until 7 pm on Sat­ur­day evenings. It’s like­ly that many pubs actu­al­ly open short­er hours in total now than they did thir­ty years ago.

    I agree with Phil’s com­ment about Ian Nairn, btw.

    1. That reminds me of anoth­er phe­nom­e­non we’ve lost, the after­noon lock-in. I remem­ber stick­ing my head hope­ful­ly round the door of a pub in Laugh­arne that appeared still to be open in mid-after­noon. Sev­en or eight blokes dot­ted around the bar looked round at me and called out “We’re closed!”.

  3. In my North­ern home town before all day open­ing there were var­i­ous WMCs that spe­cialised in after­noon open­ing when the pubs were shut. Those clubs are defunct and maybe soon the ear­ly morn­ing clubs may close, I can­not imag­ine why that would hap­pen. Can­not be the Wether­spoons. I always imag­ined that all towns had WMCs that would spe­cialise in after­noon open­ing. From a Thurs­day night to Mon­day morn­ing I can still drink legit­i­mate­ly in the local area.

    In the mid 90’s in Lon­don I had a cou­ple of 48 hour drink­ing cir­cuits, Shepherd’s Bush always as the alpha and omega.

    A friend was on the last ever lon­don to Brighton (Belle?) Booze train. Appar­ent­ly a very tear­ful occa­sion.

  4. In Birken­head the Bee­hive club was a favourite after­noon haunt. Cheshire intro­duced 11:00 p.m. clos­ing at the week­end some time in the ear­ly 80s but Mersey­side not for anoth­er 4 or 5 years. My local in Bebing­ton would emp­ty after 10:00 p.m. as drinkers jumped into their cars (!) to gain the extra half hours imbib­ing.

  5. My mate’s favourite sto­ry (lie) is that pubs next to pri­ma­ry schools were exempt from after­noon clos­ing so the teach­ers could get a pint in at half three once the kids had left (not sec­ondary schools, obvi­ous­ly, that would be ridicu­lous…).

    Thing is, there are a sur­pris­ing num­ber of pubs next to pri­ma­ry schools in Lon­don and every time I see one I think “ah, pri­ma­ry school pub” before remem­ber­ing it’s not actu­al­ly a true thing that hap­pened…

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