The Oxford English Dictionary research team is asking for help identifying the origins of the phrase ‘lock in’ in relation to pubs.
The earliest verifiable usage they’ve found is from as recently as 1991, which they’re sure can’t be right:
The elder members of the OED’s staff know from personal experience that this practice existed before 1991, but we have been unable to find earlier verifiable evidence of this term for it. Can you help us find earlier evidence of lock-in referring to a period after closing time in a bar or pub when customers already inside are allowed to continue drinking?
Our instincts are that it must be much older — post-WWII, probably — and so we got out some books and logged into a few newspaper and magazine archives to nose around.
Online, once we’d worked out how to filter out references to people called Lock, and Enfield Lock, and lock picking, and so on, we found… nothing.
Nor did we find anything in hard copy books — pub guides, Michael Jackson, publicans’ memoirs — from the 1930s through to the 1980s.
There are various convoluted ways of referring to what is obviously a lock in along the lines of ‘the licensee closed the door and invited certain guests to remain for a “private party” with the curtains drawn’, but the phrase ‘lock in’ is not used.
When we found this clip from 1986 we thought we’d got something:
…but they don’t actually say ‘lock in’ in the sketch — it’s referred to as ‘an after hours session’.
We’re currently reading through every single issue of the London Drinker from the 1980s (as you’ll have noticed if you follow us on Twitter…) and compiling an index as we go. We reckon if ‘lock in’ is going to turn up anywhere, it will be in a publication with an informal tone aimed at serious pub-going drinkers, but, so far (we’re up to 1981) it hasn’t shown up.
We’ll keep looking but if you happen to know of a documented usage of the term, please let the OED team know, and/or comment below.