Pub Design Advice from c.1968

The cover of 'Allied Breweries Interiors Handbook'.

Chris Bates worked as an interior designer for Allied Breweries (Ind Coope/Ansell’s/Tetley) between 1968 and 1970 and recently rediscovered a handbook he was given on joining the company. He kindly sent it to us to have a look at.

Before we arrange to have it added to the col­lec­tion at the Nation­al Brew­ing Library at Oxford Brookes, where we pre­vi­ous­ly dis­patched The Kegro­nom­i­con, we thought we’d share some details from it here.

No author is men­tioned but, based on the style and the typog­ra­phy, we briefly won­dered if it might have been put togeth­er by the Archi­tec­tur­al Press off the back of Inside the PubThen we recalled this bit from Ben Davis’s 1981 book The Tra­di­tion­al Eng­lish Pub (also pub­lished by the Archi­tec­tur­al Press):

At Ind Coope and All­sopps in Bur­ton-upon-Trent dur­ing the ear­ly 1950s there was a group of archi­tects whose good for­tune it was to work under Neville G. Thomp­son as Tech­ni­cal Direc­tor and Carl Fair­less (lat­er Jim With­am) as Chief Archi­tect… [Inside the Pub] became a ‘bible’ for them and their col­leagues in Lon­don, Oxford, Cardiff, Burslem, and Leeds.

So we’d guess – and it is a guess, but we’ll keep nos­ing about – that this pam­phlet is actu­al­ly the prod­uct of the Ind Coope in-house team syn­the­sis­ing what they’d learned from Mau­rice Gorham et al and imi­tat­ing their style.

(UPDATE 06.10.2017 While writ­ing this piece on Rod­er­ick Gra­didge we learned that Ben Davis was respon­si­ble for the Ind Coope (Allied) in-house train­ing pro­gramme for pub design­ers from 1965 so that would sug­gest he was indeed the author of this man­u­al.)

The book­let is only 32 pages, with no pic­tures, and fair­ly sparse text, much of it com­pris­ing check­lists and notes on sur­face mate­ri­als, light­ing and so on. What fol­lows is, in our view, the most inter­est­ing stuff.

1. Distinctions Between Bars

Page 4: Distinctions Between Bars.
This sec­tion stands out in the con­text of the crit­i­cism direct­ed at brew­eries by the ear­ly pub preser­va­tion­ists and oth­er crit­ics. The sug­ges­tion back then was that the brew­ers sim­ply loved rip­ping out old fea­tures to replace them with char­ac­ter­less mod­ern ones, the bas­tards. This pas­sage rather sug­gests the oppo­site, although per­haps that final get out clause is actu­al­ly the impor­tant bit, over­rid­ing every­thing else. Or maybe it’s that this guid­ance was writ­ten in the 1950s and, by the 1970s, this kind of think­ing was on the way out.

Page 5: a list of types of bar.

This list of types of bar and their essen­tial char­ac­ter­is­tics is great, espe­cial­ly that ‘sym­pho­ny in brown’ which is bor­rowed from an essay called ‘The Live­li­ness of Lon­don’ writ­ten by Lewis Mum­ford for the New York­er in 1953. Here’s the most famous ‘Amer­i­can bar’, at The Savoy in Lon­don:

2. Visual Qualities

There’s not much to dis­agree with here. That bit about a sense of con­ti­nu­ity is inter­est­ing – per­haps why brand new pubs are so rarely regard­ed with much fond­ness? – and NO SOPHISTICATED NASTINESS is a fan­tas­tic turn of phrase.

3. Flair & Authenticity

Page 10: Flair and Authenticity.

This is almost poet­ic. Do we have here, though, the ori­gins of the ‘use­less shelf’ and the ten­den­cy to dec­o­rate pubs with a skip-full of old tat bought by the kilo?

Page 11: Flair & Authenticity checklist.

The poet­ry inten­si­fies: that the pub is about ‘being at one with oth­ers in the past and the future who par­tic­i­pate in the basic sat­is­fac­tion giv­en by the ancient cus­tom of social drink­ing’ is a love­ly idea.

And, again, it’s inter­est­ing to read such sen­si­ble advice on retain­ing orig­i­nal fea­tures and char­ac­ter and then con­sid­er what hap­pened in prac­tice.

4. Surfaces

Page 19: Surfaces.

Areas of cold or pale colour­ing can become a visu­al LEAK, through which one’s com­fort evap­o­rates, or psy­cho­log­i­cal draughts sweep in.’ Blimey, that’s strong stuff – almost Love­craft­ian. And, yes, more rel­e­vant than ever.

5. Contents

Page 23: Contents.

As in, the con­tents of the pub, not the con­tents of the book­let. Con­fus­ing. The bit we espe­cial­ly like here is ‘(assum­ing it is an agree­able one)’ – who breaks the news to a pub­li­can that their per­son­al­i­ty is not agree­able and that their creepy col­lec­tion of Vic­to­ri­an dolls needs to go?

6. Special Appeal

Page 30: Special Appeal to women and young people.

Ladies ‘like to pen­e­trate a male strong­hold’ – steady on now! – and don’t like pubs with dodgy toi­lets. And that’s every­thing you need to know about women, appar­ent­ly.

Seri­ous­ly though, that’s a real­ly good point about young peo­ple. If you’re con­stant­ly chas­ing the lat­est trends you’ve got to keep doing it. Exhaust­ing and expen­sive, espe­cial­ly when you could just wait for them to grow up.

4 thoughts on “Pub Design Advice from c.1968”

  1. My rec­ol­lec­tion is that some of the “Big Six” were notice­ably worse than oth­ers when it came to insen­si­tive pub refur­bish­ments. Wat­neys and their sub­sidiaries were prob­a­bly the worst; Allied Brew­eries amongst the best.

  2. I was lucky enough when join­ing Allied to attend a course on pub design run by Ben Davis, aimed at area man­agers and sur­vey­ors prin­ci­pal­ly, which took place at the De Hems in Soho and includ­ed a num­ber of vis­its to Cen­tral Lon­don pubs to illus­trate his prin­ci­ples.
    “Sym­pho­ny in brown ” is a phrase I recall.
    Sad­ly my copy of his book was water dam­aged and ruined when in stor­age.

  3. I’ve men­tioned before that I have a copy of “The Tra­di­tion­al Eng­lish Pub” by Ben Davis which is some­thing of a trea­sured pos­ses­sion.

    It’s sad how all this knowl­edge about how pubs actu­al­ly *work* has now large­ly been lost. You look at mod­ern inte­ri­or designs, for exam­ple Wetherspoon’s, although they’re by no means the only offend­ers, and so often they just don’t feel right. The cus­tomers don’t flow nat­u­ral­ly through the pub and often dis­trib­ute them­selves awk­ward­ly in a way that nev­er used to hap­pen.

  4. Won­der­ful­ly sim­ple but sophis­ti­cat­ed writ­ing. Remind­ed me of David Ogilvy adver­tis­ing copy. After all these years the hand­book still has rel­e­vant views on the per­fect pub.

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