Beer history pubs

Bits We Underlined in… Kent Pubs, 1966

This is the last of the 1960s Batsford pub guides we’ve be digesting over the last few months and it’s a good one.

Unlike some of his colleagues on this project, D.B. Tubbs (Douglas Burnell ‘Bunny’ Tubbs?) attempts some humour in his writing, apparently inspired by Alan Reeve-Jones’s first entry, London Pubs, from 1962. Where Reeve-Jones featured his fictional Commander Xerxes McGill in every other entry (frankly, rather tediously), Tubbs has an equally fictional tome of pub lore, Hogmanay’s  Etymology of the Bar (unpublished). He also uses some interesting turns of phrase, a couple of which we might nick, e.g.:

  • Beermanship — to be brushed up on in any pub with a choice of draught bitter.
  • Neo — self-consciously modern pub design or decor.
  • Loungery — when Neo goes bad.
  • Oldworlderye — e.g. a buffet bar described as ‘Ye Snackerie’.
  • Hinterlanders — people from the outer edges of London.
  • Wooden bitter/wooden beer — beer from the wood, AKA traditional draught, AKA ‘real ale’.

And if you can finish this book and not find yourself thirsting for a pint of his favourite bitter from Tomson & Wooton of Ramsgate, 1634-1968, ‘with a real bitter tang’, then you’ve got a stronger will than either of us. (Their X India sounds interesting, too.)

Preface — ‘[Some pubs] have been left out for reasons that you would understand if you had been there with me. Sometimes it was the beer, sometimes the welcome and occasionally the quote food unquote.’

Crown & Sceptre, Acol — ‘[The landlord] has adopted a parrot… This polychromatic bird lies on its back, crosses his (or her) legs to order, and can pick up a beer bottle with his (or her) beak.’

Walnut Tree, Aldington — ‘The pub has an almost untouched example of a medieval kitchen.’ The pub website today has no mention of an historic kitchen.

Malta Inn, Allington Lock — ‘The beer is served not from the wood but from the bottom of the cask by “by computer”.’ No further elaboration is given but we assume he means they used electric pumps.

Blue Bell, Beltring — ‘A Fremlins house opposite Whitbread’s main farm… There is still a good deal of knees-up-Mother-Brown but far fewer hop picking customers than there used to be because machines don’t drink. At one time the landlord used to shut the public bar, fill a bath with beer and pass the pints out through the window.’ Somewhat reminiscent scenes can be seen at the Blue Anchor in Helston on Flora Day when beer is served direct from the cask at the door of the cellar via plastic pipe.

The Old Cellars, Tenterden, as drawn by Alan F. Turner.
The Old Cellars, Tenterden, as drawn by Alan F. Turner for Kent Pubs.

Woodman’s Arms, Bodsham — ‘The landlord, Mr Bob Harvey… understands beer. Eight years ago, when he first arrived, a retired publican friend said: “The secret of keeping beer and ale, my lad, is to order it in advance so it can lay for two weeks before you tap it.” This hint he has taken ever since…. Only one brew is stocked so that it is always in condition… If you want a testimonial as the Romany regular called Bill. He drinks 22 pints of bitter every Saturday night then bicycles soberly home.’

Prince Louis, Dover — ‘The walls are fastened together at present by pictures, photographs, postcards, pennants, pistols, lifebuoys, model ships and aeroplanes, cartridges, tracts, beer-mats and incendiary bombs, nailed, pinned, screwed, glued and otherwise attached, rather in the fashion of Dirty Dick’s.’ Dirty Dick’s is arguably the original ‘collection pub’, a precursor of the 20th century theme pub.

George, Egerton — ‘in winter mulled ale’. A living tradition in this part of the world, or a bit of affected ‘oldworlderye’? (Also at the Smugglers Inn, Herne.)

Vigo, Fairseat — ‘Do you play Daddlums?’ Googles Daddlums; no. ‘If so, you may be running short of opportunities because there aren’t many Kentish pubs where it is still played; if not, start at the Vigo.’ Bad news: though the link above says the Vigo still has its Daddlums table… it is now closed pending a planning decision to turn it into a private house.

King’s Head, Crafty Green — ‘Having been a tea and rubber planter in Ceylon Mr R.E. Jackson makes a speciality of Ceylon curries, which are cooked by his wife with spices specially imported from Ceylon and vegetables in season from Bombay.’ Yet another curry pub — this, it turns out, may have been ‘a thing’.

Bell, Ivychurch — ‘and fried chicken on Saturday nights’. So this wasn’t something introduced to pubs by trend-chasers in the last decade or so?

Three Horseshoes, Lower Hardres — ‘Grills and a good dish called Beef fondue… a good gobble.’ Has fondue made a comeback in hip pubs yet, or is still 70s Dinner Party naff?

George & Dragon, Speldhurst — ‘How about that drink, though? Star (Eastbourne) light mild and old ale; Fremlins’ Three Star Bitter, Worthington on draught. By pressure Flowers’ Keg, Whitbread Tankard, Watney’s Red Barrel, Double Diamond, and draught Guinness, plus Tuborg lager. Two draught ciders, four draught sherries, six malt whiskies…’ And so on. A quick glance at a couple of 1970s editions of CAMRA’s Good Beer Guide suggests it didn’t retain its reputation as a beer destination.

Northfield House, Speldhurst — ‘The mild and bitter are well kept, and served straight from the wood, and if you don’t know the difference that makes you shouldn’t be drinking draught beer at all.’ Oof! A hard line, that.

Hole in the Wall, Tunbridge Wells — ‘[A] very special case, being not an ordinary pub but the back room of Mr Allman’s tobacconist’s shop. It used in Vic. times to be called “The Central Cigar Divan”, and still has its mahogany and black leather divans and a brass gas-jet lighter on the wall for gentlemen wishing to partake of the weed.’ (a) Central Cigar Divan — hipster bar name! (b) Not that type of weed. (c) Sounds fascinating but… it’s gone.

Pepperbox, Ulcombe — ‘Inns with an unusual name are often good.’ Discuss, 12 pts.

Victoria, Wye — ‘[In] the beer-drinking contest at the Victoria… the brisker drinkers achieve a four-second pint, and acrobatic frolics are to be seen with a double-decker counterbalanced beer mug mounted in gimbals.’ Responsible drinking! We’re struggling to picture this steampunk-sounding contraption.

Hooden Horse [sic], Wickhambreaux — ‘One of the regulars is a one-eyed swan named Nelson who lives down the road. It is quite respectable to see him, even after a long session.’ A friend of Lucifer the alcoholic donkey, perhaps? And who was asking a few years ago about the origins of the phrase ‘session beer’?

12 replies on “Bits We Underlined in… Kent Pubs, 1966”

The Pepper Box is still a cracking pub and – by my estimation – still being run by the same family that would have had it in 1966. Currently being run by Sarah Pemble, her mother had it before her.

Speaking of Kent and pub games, one of the weirder things about growing up there is when you move away and find out that no-one else has heard of Bat and Trap. (Also finding out that in most parts of the country, oast houses aren’t just a normal thing to have around the place, but that’s another story…)

No elaboration provided but, as one of the other books in this series specifically mentions chicken in a basket, we assumed this refers to something different, along the lines of KFC. (Which opened its first UK stores in the mid-1960s, Wikipedia tells me.)

I’d be surprised if it was anything like KFC – they went in right at the bottom of the market, in terms of culinary and social respectability, & stayed there for a long time.

Right then… Just had a look at a couple of newspaper archives: Observer for 24 September 1965 has an article on ‘Fried chicken’ by Ambrose Heath with several variant recipes. He suggests that ‘Chicken Maryland’, apparently then a common restaurant dish, is a debased version of ‘American fried chicken’ as (he reckons) described by Escoffier. His second recipe sounds a lot like KFC.

FWIW, etc.

I think we need to distinguish between American fast food styles being
(a) adapted as high-end restaurant specialities (alongside Spaghetti Bolognese, Wiener Schitzel etc)
(b) absorbed into mid- to low-end cafe/restaurant menus, in appropriately modified forms (served on plates, with bread and butter and a cup of tea)
(c) a presence in the post-pub takeaway market
(d) taken onto cafe/restaurant menus in something like their original, rough-edged, greasy cardboard-packaged form
(e) repackaged as a gourmet experience in an even rougher-edged and greasier (but more expensive) form

I’d date (a) and (b) to the 1950s and 60s respectively, (c) to the 70s (nationwide at least), (d) to the 90s and (e) to the late 00s. If ‘(Southern) fried chicken’ was on pub menus in the 1960s it was an offshoot of (b) rather than (c); this was before widespread awareness of KFC, and long before fried chicken had had a chance to lose the KFC image.

Even (b) wasn’t on a large scale. Wimpy bars, for instance, were the place for a burger on a plate with a knife and fork, and I’ve got no memory of them serving chicken (although I do remember Shanty fish fillets and Bender frankfurters). The menu on this page seems to bear me out.

Great stuff. I’ve ordered the book through abebooks for a few quid. The Crown & Sceptre at Acol, just down the road from where I’ve lived for 35 years, has been closed (by sheps) and boarded up for a few years now, awaiting conversion into a private dwelling. Sad. Don’t remember the parrot there but I doubt I set foot in the pub til the mid 70s.
Born in Ramsgate , I remember Tomson & Wotton’s brewery really well, and, as a boy, the lovely smell when they were brewing. It’s a great sadness that Whitbread bought and closed it before I started drinking, but I know some local chaps, even older than me , who loved the cask bitter. It apparently had a wonderful floral aroma, I’m sure someone likened it to hyacinths. Another old mate who had a job there as an 18 year old in ’68, the year it closed, told me how his head swam after a colleague gave him a pint of T&W’s barley wine, Kentish Fire.

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