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.

    Gary

    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). 🙂

    Gary

    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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