HELP US: Pubs on Housing Estates in England

Did you, your parents, or grandparents grow up or live on a housing estate in England? If so, we want your memories of its pubs — or lack of them.

First, we’re interested in the period between the wars when big estates first started to be planned and built around the country, like at Downham in South East London, or Quarry Hill in Leeds.

The pubs on these estates tended to be huge, well-equipped, superficially resembling stately homes, and were often experimental: when it was first built, The Downham Tavern, for example, had no bars — only waiter service.

Here’s what used to be the Yew Tree, Wythenshawe, Manchester, built in the 1930s:

Restaurant with cars parked outside.

Realistically, to remember these pubs as they were before World War II, you’d have to be… what? More than 90-years-old? Still, we’ve got to ask. Alternatively, second-hand tales might still be useful, and any diaries, papers, photo or letters certainly would be.

And, slightly more realistically, recollections of these pubs in their later years, in the 1950s through to the 1980s, are also of great interest — how did the experiment work out?

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Secondly, we’re also interested in post-war pubs — the kind built from the early 1950s until the 1970s, usually out of brick, often on the plain side, like this constructed by Truman’s in Bethnal Green, East London, next to the Victorian building it was to replace:

New pubs next to old pub.
SOURCE: The Black Eagle, Winter 1968, photographer uncredited.

Pubs built in to tower blocks like those at Park Hill, Sheffield, are a particular blank for us at the moment. Was having a pub in your block convenient, or was going down in a lift to get a pint more trouble than it was worth?

Pub at Park Hil, Sheffield, 1961.
SOURCE: Sheffield City Council, via Yorkshire Screen Archive.

We’re particularly interested in hearing from anyone who remembers drinking in these pubs when they were brand new, when the breweries that built them were full of pride and optimism.

If you feel inclined to help us out, please do ask your parents or grandparents — if nothing else, you might find their reminiscences interesting yourself.

But more recent memories are very welcome to — every email we get, even if it’s only two sentences long, helps us build a rounded picture.

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In both cases, we are gently testing received wisdom which says estate pubs, almost by definition, are soulless, miserable and unpopular. Maybe what you tell us will prove that view right, or maybe it will help to challenge it. Either is helpful.

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Or perhaps you recall moving to an estate with no pubs, as does this 2014 commenter on a blog post about slum clearance in West London:

When the time came we were offered a place in Lavender Hill. My mother was too ill to go with us, and when we got there my dad didn’t even bother to get off the bus. His only comment was “Not a pub for miles!”

Sometimes, the absence of a pub says a lot too.

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Comments are great but emails are better: contact@boakandbailey.com

10 thoughts on “HELP US: Pubs on Housing Estates in England”

  1. The Cat & Fiddle pub in Bootle is at the bottom of a 12-storey DWP building. It was formerly called the Jutland when it was a Tetley house worth ignoring. It has real ale, usually from Liverpool Organic Brewery. I was last in there when it opened at 10.00 a.m. for the union picket line I was on during a DWP strike. A full English breakfast and a pint of Liverpool Organic 24 Carat Gold went down very nicely after standing in the cold for a couple of hours.

    For more info and pictures, put this into Google:
    Cat and Fiddle pub, St Martins House, Stanley Road, Bootle, L20 3LG.

  2. The in-laws used to drink in the City Of Paris. Late 60s, early 70s. I’ll ask them. (It’s now a curry house, and still called City Of Paris).

    My parents had their wedding reception at The Knowle, the only pub on the Bracken Bank council estate – where both families lived – in Keighley in 1968. Bracken Bank was started in the late 40s/ early 50s (parts of it by German and Italian POWs – some of whom settled locally) – and was a very well kept and desirable place until the mid-70s when it started to suffer a bit of a decline. This was mirrored by the pub, which by the mid-80s had a reputation that it categorically would not have had when my mam and dad – and my grandparents- used to visit. Taylor’s sold it in the 90s and it’s now the Bracken Arms (and seems to be shut). Again, I’ll ask them for any recollections.

    Here’s a terrible picture: http://images.novaloca.com/lg_165_19883_635280768212370000.jpg

  3. I grew up on a council estate that had several pubs, one of which got knocked down and became an aldi and the other got knocked down for redevelopment yet the land sits empty. The other, the fiveways, is still standing. I remember going in the one that’s now an Aldi with my dad when I was a kid (I forget the name. It may have been called The Larkman since that’s the area) and recall it being horrible, even by the standards of other pubs dad took me into like The Marlpit (which I think is also now closed but may be getting revived by the community – I hope not as its a UKIP stronghold in that area). The Grove I never went into as I was too young but a friend lived near it, we’d go to his house after playing football and we’d see people getting into massive punch ups before teatime on a Sunday evening.

    The Fiveways I have been in since I’ve been old enough to drink and oh man, it’s not a pleasant pub. I’ve been in several times. Warm, old, poorly kept Spitfire was replaced by warm, horrible bottles of Spitfire. The clientele was horrible too. Even if the pool table was untouched for an hour, you’d get snarled at if you wanted to play because you weren’t regular enough for them to know you. The time we discovered that the jukebox had slipknot’s first album and decided to put “wait and bleed” on, just for a laugh, to which the regulars didn’t respond kindly. We saw them edging towards us so we dodged out of the door to find them throwing their glasses at us down the street.

    We only started to go there because the UEA bar stopped letting non students in since they were getting shit from the locals and the fat cat was too far away.

      1. No problem. My experiences were seemingly a lot more horrible than other comments you’ve had.

        RE: The Grove, I believe it was a tied pub; Enterprise or Punch, and the tenants got kicked out allegedly not because it was rough as hell but because they stopped buying expensive kegs of beer and started going to the supermarket to buy cans to sell to punters at £2 a pop. Not entirely sure how true it is.

  4. I drank in the Five Ways as a university student in the late 1970s. It certainly wasn’t horrible then. It was a proper community pub. I have a vague memory of an old boy called Roy and his dog. The pubs on the Larkman estate (The Larkman and The Marlpit) were rough then but not frighteningly so. Mind you, I used to go drinking with my girlfriend which is a good way to avoid trouble.

    Other estate pubs that I’ve used fairly regularly: 1. The Good Companions, South Yardley, Birmingham mid 70s until it was pulled down in the 80s. A terrific local, several bars including two public bars sometimes referred to as the Welsh bar and the Irish bar. Darts, dominoes, a bowling green too. A sad loss to the area. 2. The Journey’s End nearby is still thriving. 3. The Yorkshire Grey, Eltham in SE London. Huge pub which by then (late70s) had been knocked into one enormous space with a central bar. Alongside was a ballroom used for unlicensed boxing matches. It was always busy. I expect it’s gone now too.

  5. Not really estate pubs as they were on the main Coventry Road and preceded the building of the estate but relevant to your earlier prefab pub question. The New Inn on Coventry Road (mentioned in a previous post) was replaced by a prefab in the mid 1960s when the A45 was widened and the Swan underpass built. The Swan pub itself was demolished at the same time and rebuilt with the claim that it was England’s biggest pub. It can’t have been very successful because it’s long gone. The New Inn was eventually rebuilt in the 80s. I remember the original buildings but only as a child. Of the replacements I liked the prefab best.

  6. The Yorkshire Grey is now a Macdonalds. Another estate pub I once knew well the Middleton Arms, Middleton, Leeds was pulled down to build an Aldi. I think this was a true estate pub as, unlike some of the others, it wasn’t on an arterial road so got no passing trade. On reflection I reckon the real estate pubs were unusual for urban pubs because they were used by all ages of drinker. Nearer to city centre there tended to numerous smaller pubs each catering for a specific type of clientele. The big estate pubs were located at a distance from the competition and tried to please everyone. In that they were more like village pubs. The difference from a village pub would be the lack of a mix of social classes (the clientele of a council estate local being different to that of a local on an estate of owner-occupied semis). And the total lack of passing trade made them truly ‘locals’. I reckon these pubs are disappearing faster than any other type at the moment because the sites are so valuable for development.

    1. The first time I went in an estate pub I was strongly reminded of the Sergeants’ Mess in the forces town where I grew up. It was partly a matter of similar post-war prefab architecture and a similar functional layout (big square dancefloor over there, big square dining area over here, big squared-off bar in the middle). But I think the biggest similarity was the air they both had of being well-used, and used by everyone: the old boys, the teenagers, the families, the WRVS, you name ’em. (Lots of clubs; two or three separate noticeboards.) The atmosphere wasn’t very pubby, but welcoming to all in a distant sort of way. Spoons’ are their inheritors.

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