QUICK ONE: The Flea and Sawdust School, 1927

The Fellowship Inn, Bellingham: pool table and dereliction.

The English Public House As It Is, a book by social observer Ernest Selley, was published in 1927. Re-reading it in search of a reference, we spotted a passage that hadn’t previously grabbed our attention.

In it, Sel­l­ey reports on his vis­it to The Fel­low­ship Inn, Belling­ham, South Lon­don (pic­tured above when we vis­it­ed in August), where he met some­one who was unim­pressed with the new style of ‘improved pub­lic house’:

Evi­dent­ly this man is a mem­ber of what I once heard described as ‘The Flea and Saw­dust School’; one of the type which prefers the stuffy ‘cozi­ness’ of the dirty, ill-ven­ti­lat­ed tap­room to any of the ‘new fan­gled’ ideas.

Some ances­tor of The Pub Cur­mud­geon, per­haps? (That’s not us hav­ing a go: we sus­pect he’ll quite like the com­par­i­son.)

It’s inter­est­ing to us that this lob­by, which we asso­ciate with a cer­tain wing with­in CAMRA today, was suf­fi­cient­ly well-devel­oped by the mid-1920s for Sel­l­ey to say he had ‘met sev­er­al of these crit­ics’, and for it to deserve a nick­name. It was clear­ly, as they say, ‘a thing’.

The Fellowship Inn when it was new.
The Fel­low­ship Inn in c.1920s. SOURCE: Inside Hous­ing.

Also of note, in the sec­tion that imme­di­ate­ly fol­lows, is an account of ear­ly beer snob­bery: Sel­l­ey records a meet­ing with a bloke who won’t drink at the local improved pub because ‘the beer is rot­ten’. Sel­l­ey says he tried it and found it any­thing but ‘rot­ten’. In his view the man was prej­u­diced because he resent­ed the posh­er, more expen­sive pub, even though Sel­l­ey was sure he would have enjoyed the very same beer served at the more down-to-earth ‘Pig and Whis­tle’. We can’t say for sure what was real­ly going on – Sel­l­ey was prej­u­diced too in his own way, in favour of improved pubs – but this kind of debate about val­ue, qual­i­ty, and the qual­i­ties of a ‘prop­er pub’ is cer­tain­ly still going on 90 years lat­er.

3 thoughts on “QUICK ONE: The Flea and Sawdust School, 1927”

  1. Haha, I imme­di­ate­ly drew the con­nec­tion on see­ing the head­line before read­ing the rest of the post 😉

    The thing is, though, that the drink­ing pub­lic nev­er took the “improved” pubs to their heart. In my blog­post on the sub­ject (inspired by your­selves), I quot­ed from John Moore in Por­trait of Elm­bury:

    …the major­i­ty of the pop­u­la­tion, it seems, likes the lit­tle pubs also, and peo­ple from the cities dri­ve twen­ty miles on Sun­day morn­ing to crowd us out of our local because they hate the big road­hous­es too. A pub, after all, is not just a place for con­ve­nient drink­ing; if it were these mod­ern palaces with their cease­less foun­tains of beer would serve the pur­pose very well. But a pub is pri­mar­i­ly a meet­ing-place for friends; where friends as well as drink­ing may talk, argue, play game, or just sit and think accord­ing to their mood.”

    1. Ah, well, we’ve got quite a bit more to say about that as part of the Big Project. Short ver­sion: they weren’t as unpop­u­lar as their crit­ics liked to sug­gest, but they weren’t per­fect either.

  2. I think tra­di­tion and moder­ni­ty go in waves. The 60s to the 70s, rep­re­sent­ed a big switch from moder­ni­ty to tra­di­tion, coin­cid­ing of course with the rise of CAMRA.

    We’re cur­rent­ly very much in a moder­ni­ty phase, but things will turn around in the full­ness of time.

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