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.
- 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.’
- 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.’
- 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.)