Modern Pubs of 1961: Watney’s & Whitbread

Exterior of the The King's Head pub, Coventry.

This selection of post-war pubs comes from 1961 editions of in-house magazines from two London brewing behemoths, Watney’s and Whitbread.

To reit­er­ate what we said a few weeks ago, the pri­ma­ry point of this series of posts is to put the mate­r­i­al in these pub­li­ca­tions some­where where oth­er peo­ple can find it. And, for clar­i­ty, we should say that these pubs weren’t all built or opened in 1961 – that’s just when the mag­a­zines cov­ered them. Where a date of con­struc­tion or open­ing is giv­en, or is avail­able from anoth­er reli­able source, we’ve includ­ed it, along with the names of archi­tects and pho­tog­ra­phers where pos­si­ble.

1. The Buff Orpington, Orpington, Greater London (Kent)
The Buff Orpington on opening day.
Pho­to: A.C.K. Ware. Archi­tect: Alan Chalmers.

This Whit­bread pub was the per­ma­nent replace­ment for a pre­fab that was erect­ed as a stop­gap imme­di­ate­ly after World War II. The lounge, in black and white, was dec­o­rat­ed with repro­duc­tions of paint­ings of chick­ens, the Buff Orp­ing­ton being a breed of hen. The tap room (pub­lic bar) had lemon walls and a red and blue tiled floor – so, some­thing like this?

Tiled floor and yellow walls.

Is it still there? Yes, under the name The Buff, and it’s yet anoth­er post-war estate pub run by Greene King who seem to be keep­ing it in good nick, even if it has had some faux-Vic­to­ri­an bits glued on.

2. The Royal Engineer, Gillingham, Kent
The Royal Engineer (exterior)
Archi­tect: L. Mason Apps

The orig­i­nal pub of this name was at Chatham, near the Roy­al Engi­neers’ bar­racks. This new pub – a fair­ly hand­some build­ing for the peri­od – was built by Whit­bread as part of the shop­ping cen­tre on a new estate at Twydall:

Where in the old house were shut­ters and frost­ed glass are now clear panes and airy lou­vres. Spe­cial atten­tion has been paid to heat­ing and ven­ti­la­tion; a pleas­ing fea­ture is the light­ing – more and small­er bulbs giv­ing bright­ness with­out glare. Rich­ly hued woods in servery, coun­ters and doors set off with light paint and wall­pa­per… An unusu­al fea­ture is the porce­lain han­dles of the beer pumps. On each is a repro­duc­tion of the inn sign.

We can imag­ine some peo­ple read­ing that think­ing that the shut­ters and frost­ed glass sound much nicer.

This one is no longer in oper­a­tion hav­ing been turned into a take­away restau­rant fair­ly recent­ly, it seems.

3. The Horse & Groom, Sidcup, Greater London (Kent)

The exterior of the Horse & Groom with horse-drawn carriage.

This new build­ing, which took about a year to con­struct, replaced an old­er pub dam­aged by a land­mine in 1940. It was declared open by Whit­bread dray­man Jack Strick­land pic­tured here (left) with Charles Whit­bread (cen­tre) and col­league Charles Gib­bons:

Three men drinking beer, two in bowler hats.
Pho­to: A.C.K. Ware.

Is the pub still there? It is, only it’s now a pub-restau­rant in the Har­vester chain and has a slight­ly bizarre makeover with a fake rus­ti­cat­ed exten­sion designed to sug­gest, we assume, that this is a Quaint Old Inn™.

4. The Salmon Leap, Totton, Hampshire…

The exterior of the Salmon Leap.

5. …and the Gardeners Arms, Woolston, Hampshire

The exterior of the Gardeners Arms.

We’ve jumped ahead a bit here because you real­ly need to look at these two pubs in the sub­urbs of Southamp­ton as a pair. It’s a stand­ing joke that post-war pubs all look the same but here Wat­ney’s real­ly were oper­at­ing an off-the-peg sys­tem. These two build­ings were built to the same design using a pre­fab­ri­cat­ed con­struc­tion sys­tem. Both were thrown up in six months or so apiece and Wat­ney’s were proud of their ‘strik­ing­ly mod­ern’ appear­ance.

Per­haps sur­pris­ing­ly giv­en the nature of their con­struc­tion both are still there, still trad­ing, and appar­ent­ly hard­ly changed. There’s a bit of dra­ma in the What­pub list­ing for The Salmon Leap – ‘Pub sur­vey attempt­ed 14/12/2016 but the then land­lord reject­ed the approach and seems to have banned his staff from say­ing any­thing at all’ – and you can get a good look at the Gar­den­er’s via Street View:

6. The Highwayman, Roehampton, London (Surrey)

The Highwayman (exterior) -- a pub in the mist.

This pub, brand­ed Man­n’s rather than Wat­ney’s, was named for a famous high­way­man, Jer­ry Aber­shaw. He worked the Lon­don to Portsmouth road and was hanged near the site of the pub before being left on dis­play for three years as a warn­ing to oth­ers. (Blimey.)

Pub sign: The Highwayman.

Our favourite detail in the descrip­tion of this pub is that ‘The tables in the saloon bar are topped with a plas­tic lam­i­nate which is dec­o­rat­ed with attrac­tive draw­ings of flint­lock pis­tols’. No-one would even think of dec­o­rat­ing a pub with pic­tures of guns today, would they? Even quaint antique ones.

Still there? Sad­ly not – demol­ished in 2014, accord­ing to What­Pub, which also tells us that it was on the CAMRA her­itage list thanks to a well-pre­served inte­ri­or. We will try to track down some pic­tures.

7. The Moby Dick, Chadwell Heath, Essex

The exterior of the Moby Dick pub.

This pub sounds a lot like a restau­rant: seats for 80 for lunch and din­ner, or a hun­dred seat­ed ban­quet style, and a ‘sup­per menu’ of 97 dish­es. It had a large mur­al of a whale hunt by Hugh Rob­son, nephew of the actress Dame Flo­ra Rob­son. Is it still there? Yes! From Street View it appears to have had a vin­tage-style makeover, though, with tra­di­tion­al Essex-style weath­er­board­ing and a weath­er vane. It is now a Toby Carvery – not unfit­ting.

8. The Sportsman, Dunstable, Bedfordshire

The exterior of the Sportsman.

This pub was part of a plan to reduce the num­ber of pubs in the town cen­tre and move the licences out to new hous­ing estates. The Sports­man was on the Hadri­an estate and had a lounge, darts area and off-licence. The offie was larg­er than usu­al because they expect­ed plen­ty of peo­ple on the estate to buy to drink at home – but why? Because they could­n’t afford the pub, or because they drank an unusu­al amount, or some com­bi­na­tion of the two?

Here’s George Mann, a direc­tor at Wat­ney Mann from the Man­n’s side (obvi­ous­ly) pulling the first pint watched by the may­or (left) and the licensee Mr Palmer.

George Mann pulls a pint.

And it’s still there, too – a ‘com­fy estate pub’ with con­ver­sa­tion, games and a sin­gle chang­ing real ale accord­ing to the local CAMRA branch.

9. Hobson’s Choice, Spinney Hill, Warwick, Warwickshire

The lounge of the Hobson's choice.

There’s no exte­ri­or shot of this pub which opened offi­cial­ly on 31 March 1961 to serve the Per­cy Estate. It was designed by the in-house archi­tects of Phipps, a Northamp­ton brew­ery tak­en over by Wat­ney Mann in 1960. Above is the ‘lux­u­ri­ous lounge’ which led through to a refresh­ment room (cafe) intend­ed most­ly for the use of chil­dren.

Is it still there? No. It was board­ed up for a while accord­ing to What­Pub, which also reveals that it was for a time known as Images – the quin­tes­sen­tial 1980s night­club name – and the site now appears to have sev­er­al new-build hous­es.

10. The Willow Tavern, Failsworth, Great Manchester (Lancashire)

Exterior view of the Willow Tavern with man in mac and parked car.

Wilson’s was a Man­ches­ter brew­ery tak­en over by Wat­ney Mann in 1960. This, ‘one of their small­er hous­es’, illus­trates the phi­los­o­phy of the day per­fect­ly: pubs should­n’t look much dif­fer­ent to the hous­es around them.

This pho­to­graph of the lounge is great, absolute­ly made per­fect by the ghost­ly fig­ure in the door­way – a reminder that there were actu­al­ly peo­ple liv­ing, work­ing and drink­ing in this per­fect­ly posed pubs.

Lounge of the Willow Tavern.

Since it was built this pub has been extend­ed for­ward and is appar­ent­ly still thriv­ing – hooray!

11. The Roebuck, Lewisham, London
Exterior view of the Roebuck.
Archi­tect: Raglan Squire & Part­ners.

The above pho­to is a bit weird – tak­en from the top of a bus? Sit­u­at­ed on Ren­nell Street this Whit­bread pub was put up in only eight months and had a dive bar and saloon, ‘both with fit­ted car­pets’. Here’s the saloon:

Saloon bar at the Roebuck -- carpets and banquettes.

It’s long gone but Ewan from pubology.co.uk man­aged to nab a shot pri­or to demo­li­tion when it bore signs from a lat­er incar­na­tion as Bar Phoenix. From the com­ments on the Flickr page: ‘Was a queer pub in the 1990s & ear­ly 2000s under the Roe­buck name. So most local peo­ple nev­er went near it.’

UPDATERun­ning Past now has an entire post on the Roe­buck and its his­to­ry.

12. The County Oak, Brighton, Sussex
The County Oak as it appeared in 1961.
Archi­tects: Tilt­man & Howard.

Cur­rent­ly the most famous pub in Britain thanks to a bad review in the local news­pa­per that went viral last week, the Coun­ty Oak was launched with great pride by Whit­bread in 1961. It replaced a 1950 post-war pre­fab which closed in March 1961; this new ver­sion opened the very next day.

Mr & Mrs Purdin

The first man­agers were Edward Pur­din and his appar­ent­ly name­less wife who had pre­vi­ous­ly run the pre­fab ver­sion of the same pub.

The saloon at the County Oak.

It had a saloon bar – soft fur­nish­ing, car­pets, pic­tured above – and a pub­lic bar – wipe clean, like a swim­ming pool recep­tion area, pic­tured below.

The public bar at the County Oak.

13. The King’s Head, Coventry, West Midlands

Lounge of the King's Head

The King’s Head was a Phipps pub on Black­ber­ry Lane on the Lyng Hall Estate.  It was designed by the Northamp­ton brew­ery in-house archi­tects depart­ment. Above is the lounge (anoth­er ver­ti­cal­ly striped bar – this was obvi­ous­ly a thing) and you can see the exte­ri­or right at the top of the post in the fea­tured image.

It opened offi­cial­ly on 16 May 1961. Nowa­days, though the build­ing is intact, it is a ban­quet­ing venue known as King’s.

* * *

That’s it for this batch. Just a reminder that if you or your rel­a­tives have any old brew­ery in-house mag­a­zines you’re think­ing of sling­ing in a skip, do drop us a line first.

8 thoughts on “Modern Pubs of 1961: Watney’s & Whitbread”

  1. A love­ly piece, thanks for bring­ing it togeth­er.

    Per­haps sur­pris­ing­ly, I don’t think ANY of those have been in the Beer Guide in mod­ern times, based on my own trav­els.

    Not that that mat­ters, of course; it’s pleas­ing so many still going.

    1. A lot of Wat­ney and Whit­bread pubs end­ed up being owned by Enter­prise, which is not a recipe for qual­i­ty.

  2. I did­n’t know about the Orp­ing­ton chick­en, but there’s anoth­er Kent con­nec­tion, in that the Roy­al East Kent Reg­i­ment were known as the Buffs – and a merg­er meant that they did briefly cov­er all of Kent.

    #8 – is the offie a response to restric­tive licens­ing hours? “The prox­im­i­ty of hous­ing means you have to shut at 9.30, but we’ll encour­age off-sales to com­pen­sate” ??? Of course, these days the offie would be a bottle-&-growler shop…

  3. I was going to get all snob­by and snot­ty about 8, and say “what else is there to do in Dun­st­bable?”, and sneer even more about the des­tiny of 13 – “a ban­quet­ing suite in Wyken?” – but then I saw it includes an Indi­an restau­rant, and all of my neg­a­tiv­i­ty evap­o­rat­ed.
    It’s great to see how these places were, and to under­stand the sense of opti­mism around some of them at least. I had always assumed this type of pub had been designed to be as cheap as pos­si­ble, noth­ing more, but it’s fas­ci­nat­ing to under­stand some of the intend­ed social engi­neer­ing behind them.

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