Mass Observation Strikes Again: (No) Village Inn, 1947

Detail from a chart: 'Public House'.

It’s worth asking next time you read an impassioned piece about villages without pubs whether they even had one in the first place.

In Tavi­s­tock last week we picked up a tat­ty copy of Exmoor Vil­lage, a 1947 book by W.J. Turn­er ‘based on fac­tu­al infor­ma­tion from Mass Obser­va­tion’. It fea­tures a chap­ter on pubs and social­is­ing called ‘Gar­dens, Pubs and Small Talk’. But our hopes of 20 pages of glo­ri­ous detail on beer and booz­ers were shat­tered with the open­ing line:

There is no inn in Luc­combe [in Som­er­set], nor any­where on the Acland Estate. The near­est is at Woot­ton Court­ney. There is vir­tu­al­ly no social cen­tre in Luc­combe beyond the doorstep and the vil­lage street.

Some of the men in the vil­lage, the author says, were in the habit of going to pubs in near­by Woot­ton or Por­lock ‘on Sat­ur­day or Sun­day – sel­dom both’:

Mr Gould remem­bers brown ale at three­pence a pint, and says he used to go every evening, wet or fine, to Woot­ton. To-day, on an old-age pen­sion, his vis­its are rare. His son is a tee­to­taller, and Bill Tame is anoth­er… Although Som­er­set is famous for its cyder, and home-brewed cyder is found at many small farms and drunk by young and old alike, Mr Par­tridge is the only Luc­combe per­son who has it. Anoth­er farmer, Mr Stad­don, prefers beer.

The true Mass Obser­va­tion touch, more lit­er­ary than objec­tive in tone despite its sci­en­tif­ic pre­ten­sions, comes through in a descrip­tion of the men at their usu­al haunt, the bar at a posh hotel in Woot­ton Court­ney known as the ‘Dunkery’:

The pub­lic bar like most coun­try bars is small, with two tables, two bench­es, and not enough chairs… A vis­i­tor at about sev­en o’clock in the evening would find Bob Prescott, look­ing tired and weath­er-beat­en, slumped up in a chair next to the bar; Mr Hales, who has cycled from Luc­combe, sit­ting in a chair by the win­dow; a man of forty-five not from Luc­combe in the next-door chair; Mr Keal, who has walked in, stand­ing lean­ing on his cane. Talk cen­tres on hors­es. One or two more men come in and join the talk… Ten men are present now, and con­ver­sa­tion round the bar is about a stony field. ‘Ay, that’s the stoni­est one you got, George, bain’t it?’ … ‘Big stones’ … ‘One along of Dunkery be stonier’ …

We assume the hotel in ques­tion is the Dunkery Bea­con Hotel which fits the descrip­tion – ‘a white build­ing with a veran­dah’ – but it doesn’t seem like­ly the bar is still there in any­thing like its orig­i­nal form. The walk from Luc­combe to Woot­ton Court­ney (or Courte­nay) is about 45 min­utes accord­ing to Google Maps. And, for what it’s worth, Bai­ley recalls hear­ing peo­ple in Som­er­set gen­uine­ly, un-iron­i­cal­ly say­ing ‘bain’t’ when he was a kid, though younger peo­ple had gone over to ‘ain’t’.

The men in the pub take snuff, smoke a lot, and talk about root crops, the pub in Por­lock, the threat of inva­sion, Ger­man air­men and the Home Guard, choco­late rationing and oth­er then hot top­ics. (The obser­va­tions on which the book was based were from 1944.) When two Amer­i­cans turn up (GIs, pre­sum­ably) they dom­i­nate the con­ver­sa­tion with talk of farm­ing back home.

If the men were only occa­sion­al pub-goers, the women of Luc­combe hard­ly ever went, and the young men of the vil­lage aren’t big drinkers. Meryn Arscott, an 18-year-old, is the case study and wasn’t a fre­quent drinker because he couldn’t afford it.

And that’s pubs done, in a page and half because ‘for the most part the men stay at home because they don’t want to go any­where else.’ That’s a thread that come out very clear­ly in var­i­ous bits of post-WWII writ­ing on pubs – the idea that men were aban­don­ing the pub not because it was bad but because home, fam­i­ly, gar­dens and allot­ments had become so pleas­ant.

If you’re inter­est­ed in coun­try life more gen­er­al­ly, Som­er­set in par­tic­u­lar, or Mass Obser­va­tion (this project was con­tro­ver­sial), then this book is worth get­ting. The 29 colour and 22 black-and-white pho­tos by John Hinde are also love­ly to look at, as are the charm­ing­ly peri­od charts and illus­tra­tions. We paid £4.99 for our copy of this book; Ama­zon lists a cou­ple for around £6.

Main image: a detail from a chart at the back of the book show­ing dis­tances from Luc­combe to key ameni­ties.

7 thoughts on “Mass Observation Strikes Again: (No) Village Inn, 1947”

  1. If it’s 1944 you aren’t going to find many young men any­where in rur­al Britain out­side of uni­form.

  2. The Dunkery is still there but I think it’s just a hotel, it used to have a bar and fea­tured in ear­ly issues of the GBG, Luc­combe is I think too small to be called a parish, doesn’t have a church, there was a pub in the next vil­lage Tim­ber­scombe but it’s cur­rent­ly closed, appar­ent­ly the land­lord topped him­self I was recent­ly told.

    1. The Dunk or Dunkery is still here and is now known as Dunkery Bea­con Coun­try House Hotel and also has a pub­lic restau­rant with­in called The Coleridge Restau­rant. Both are very pop­u­lar with tourists and locals.
      Although not sure if Luc­cumbe is a Parish, it def­i­nite­ly has a church which can be seen clear­ly from the flanks of Luc­cumbe Hill.
      The Lion in Tim­ber­scombe is now under new own­er­ship and present­ly being refur­bished after that fate­ful day that brought an end to the much trou­bled land­lord.

  3. Actu­al­ly, just won­der­ing about how pubs man­aged dur­ing the war espe­cial­ly. Tax had increased huge­ly on beer and income tax took a huge hike. How much spare cash did the aver­age man have to go down the pub at the time, or was every­thing else so rationed that it aver­aged out? Did pubs just sur­vive because they were brew­ery owned?

    1. Pubs strug­gled dur­ing WWII because of short sup­plies, lack of cus­tomers, etc., but there was an under­stand­ing in gov­ern­ment that they were impor­tant for morale and nation­al iden­ti­ty and brew­ers were encour­aged to keep them trad­ing. Gen­er­al­ly, bar­ring bomb dam­age, they sur­vived pret­ty well. (Lots of T&Cs apply; we’ve looked into this a bit and there will be more in the book we’re work­ing on.)

  4. for the most part the men stay at home because they don’t want to go any­where else.’
    This remind­ed me of the come­di­an Micky Flana­gan bemoan­ing the fact that his wife insist­ed they go on hol­i­day.
    ” Why do I want to pay mon­ey to go some­where to see peo­ple doing pret­ty much what I do at home any­way. ”

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