Types of Pub, 1927

Engraved windows, Islington, North London.

In researching his book The English Public House as it is Ernest Selley travelled to various towns around Britain and concluded that there were three types of pub.

  1. The Food Tav­ern – a type of pub that ‘def­i­nite­ly sets out to pro­vide meals… some­thing more than bis­cuits and cheese, sand­wich­es and cut cake’. These he found most­ly in large towns and cities and observed that they tend­ed to serve food at lunchtime, to busi­ness-peo­ple. This state­ment seems to con­firm the view that the wide avail­abil­i­ty of sub­stan­tial food in pubs is a rel­a­tive­ly recent devel­op­ment‘My expe­ri­ence, gen­er­al­ly, has been that, out­side lim­it­ed areas, there is no attempt to pro­vide meals on licensed premis­es.’
  2. Social Hous­es‘A tour round the pub­lic hous­es of any town will bring out the fact that cer­tain hous­es pos­sess greater social con­ve­niences than oth­ers.’ These are the kind of pubs with pigeon clubs, cycling clubs, music, come­di­ans, skit­tles, and cork clubs: ‘The chairman…says, “Gen­tle­men, pro­duce your corks,” The man who can­not pro­duce his cork has to pay for a round of drinks.’
  3. Drink Shops‘The low­est type of pub­lic house… which pro­vides prac­ti­cal­ly noth­ing in the way of social ameni­ties except shel­ter and liq­uid refresh­ment.’ There is con­ver­sa­tion but it is ‘about on a lev­el with the street cor­ner group’; there is saw­dust on the floor; and hard­ly any seat­ing.

How does that map with today’s pub scene? We’d say, based on our own un-sci­en­tif­ic obser­va­tions,  that the group in the mid­dle (live music and pigeon clubs) has shrunk, or become a kind of her­itage exer­cise; food tav­erns have become much more com­mon – almost the norm; while bare­bones ‘drink shops’ have become what peo­ple now call ‘rough pubs’.

(And there are, of course, new types and sub-types.)

8 thoughts on “Types of Pub, 1927”

  1. I pride myself on a more-than-aver­age-knowl­edge-for-a-North Amer­i­can of Eng­lish social and cul­tur­al his­to­ry. E.g., I know about pigeon clubs, and imag­ine too there must have been goose­ber­ry clubs in some pubs in the mid­lands (the fruit grew best where pol­lu­tion was the worst – see, told you I knew some stuff).

    But the “street cor­ner group” and “cork clubs” defeat me.


    1. Cork club’s new to us, too. A bit of a joke – a drink­ing soci­ety, real­ly.

      Street cor­ner group isn’t an obscure idiom, though – he lit­er­al­ly means a group of peo­ple who hang around on a street cor­ner, i.e loafers, loi­ter­ers, malin­ger­ers, gither­ing bil­lies.

  2. Gath­er­ing bil­lies? You’re just com­pound­ing my transpon­tine igno­rance ! (Although I see now where the terms “hill­bil­ly” and “bil­ly club” prob­a­bly come from, or con­nect to). 🙂


    1. *Gither­ing* – standy-standy on the straight leg­gers, all leany ‘gainst lamp-polds, smok­ing a Wood­bile or few, and, oh dear, hel­lo hel­lo, sug­gestible fash­ion, at the pass­ing peeplode. Deep sor­row.

  3. Good book that, very enter­tain­ing in the way the author paints a pic­ture of some of the dingi­est pubs and their drunk­en cus­tomers; he is a bit fin­ger-wag­ging as well. I got the feel­ing he didn’t go out much.

    1. The stuff about pros­ti­tutes in pubs is a bit weird – moral out­rage com­bined with not espe­cial­ly well-con­cealed fas­ci­na­tion.

  4. Drink shops may have phys­i­cal­ly become rough pubs but could be seen as ances­tors of cur­rent city cen­tre ver­ti­cal drink­ing estab­lish­ments. Social hous­es diver­si­fied to wider vari­ety of types : large pub with func­tion room for groups, gig venues or just places with a quiz night or karaoke . ( and lot of shades inbe­tween)

  5. Actu­al­ly I’d say the com­ments about “food hous­es” demon­strate the oppo­site – that sub­stan­tial meals were wide­ly avail­able in pubs, but only where they had a ready-made din­ing clien­tele on their doorstep. The pub as a din­ing des­ti­na­tion was still well in the future, but it’s quite wrong to say, as peo­ple often do, that you could nev­er get any­thing to eat beyond crisps.

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