Martin Wainwright on London Pubs, 1977

The cover of Punch for 25-31 May 1977.

The edition of Punch for 25–31 May 1977 included a special supplement on ‘How to Make the Most of London’, including its pubs.

Mar­tin Wain­wright (@mswainwright) start­ed writ­ing for the Guardian in 1976 and retired in 2012. He is also the author of sev­er­al books and main­tains a blog about moths.

We came across this arti­cle, ‘Mild and Muzak’, via Google Books which, despite only show­ing a snip­pet, allowed us to work out which mag­a­zine to buy from Ebay and thus cite it in 20th Cen­tu­ry Pub. (It gives a fig­ure for the cost of fit­ting out Dogget’s Coat & Badge, that famous and endur­ing Lon­don river­side booze bunker.) We guess he wrote this piece when he was in his twen­ties mak­ing him an approx­i­mate con­tem­po­rary of the founders of the Cam­paign for Real Ale. On which note, here’s the open­ing sec­tion:

The first prob­lem about the Lon­don pub is how to get into it. It’s all very well dis­cours­ing on the mer­its of Young’s  and Rud­dles’ beer, hand­pumps or bar­maids, but if you can’t get at them with­out mount­ing a major siege, the con­ver­sa­tion is rather aca­d­e­m­ic… In too many of the cap­i­tal’s pubs, you can’t. It isn’t just a provin­cial mat­ter of turn­ing a lit­tle han­dle or creak­ing open an old door into a nice snug. You have to force your way in, dig a path through your bel­low­ing fel­low-drinkers and stake out a few inch­es on the counter by the fierce tac­ti­cal use of your elbows and all oth­er avail­able pointy bits.

Forty years on that is still exact­ly right, though you might wish to swap Cloud­wa­ter and Beaver­town for Young’s and Rud­dles’.

Lat­er he men­tions the Pub Infor­ma­tion Ser­vice, a hot­line spon­sored by Wat­ney’s which “has the habit of being the oppo­site of what its name implies”. We might write some­thing more sub­stan­tial about this at some point but Mr Wain­wright’s obser­va­tion – that ask­ing the PIS (chor­tle) where to find Young’s Bit­ter would see you direct­ed to a Wat­ney’s pub – sounds about right.

The Muzak men­tioned in the title is canned music played in pubs, though he does­n’t much pre­fer live music, rail­ing against rock bands (at e.g. The Grey­hound, Ful­ham), folk clubs (The Bull & Mouth, Blooms­bury), and “the dread­ed Mor­ris Danc­ing Troupe” at The Cut­ty Sark in Green­wich.

After a brief aside on the sub­ject of isin­glass fin­ings (“the most sig­nif­i­cant deal­ers in this stuff… is the Sav­ille Hydro­log­i­cal Cor­po­ra­tion in Mer­ton, Wim­ble­don”) which, by the way, uses the word ‘murky’, he gets on to beer and the price of beer:

The Cam­paign for Real Ale may scoff at Lon­don as a desert for nat­u­ral­ly brewed beer. But if the pro­por­tions of real to chem­i­cal­ly-brewed ale pubs is low, where else can you get, with­in a cou­ple of square miles, Marston Pedi­gree, Rud­dles Coun­ty, Fed­er­a­tion Clubs and Sam Smiths?

True, you can also get a remark­ably dif­fer­ent range of prices, any­thing from 26p to 38p for sus­pi­cious­ly sim­i­lar types of pint. But this seems to have lit­tle effect on the boom­ing cus­tom, doubt­less because of the even greater skill at rip­ping-off shown by the oppo­si­tion.

The Rosetti, from a Fuller's publicity leaflet, c.1979.

On pub design, he sin­gles out Fuller’s as notable inno­va­tors, men­tion­ing in par­tic­u­lar the Ros­set­ti in St John’s Wood (see above) and the Char­i­ot in Houn­slow. Young’s in-house pub archi­tect Ian Spate (a new name to us) may war­rant fur­ther inves­ti­ga­tion – per­haps he is still around? Dogget’s Coat & Badge he calls “the pub of the 1990s”, which was­n’t meant as a joke when he wrote but cer­tain­ly rais­es a smile from this end of the time­line.

Lon­don pub his­to­ry enthu­si­asts who want to read the whole arti­cle will need to get their hands on the mag­a­zine. We found our copy for £4.99 deliv­ered but you might well dig one up for less or, indeed, at your local library.

4 thoughts on “Martin Wainwright on London Pubs, 1977”

  1. Fight­ing your way to the bar? Stand­ing room only? How times have changed over forty years (although I accept Lon­don is a dif­fer­ent coun­try).

  2. The Ros­set­ti was one of the first pubs we drank in after mov­ing to Lon­don liv­ing just up the Jubilee line. While it does not look so from the exte­ri­or, it had a love­ly, con­fort­able inte­ri­or with two huge Fuller’s mir­rors. It was a Sun­day lunchtime favourite as Lon­don pubs were open until 3pm then. The man­ag­er had one of the world’s finest han­dle bar mous­tach­es. Indeed, St John’s Wood was then a good drink­ing spot in the cap­i­tal, as, in addi­tion to the Ros­set­ti, you could find pubs tied to Sam Smith’s, Wells and Greene King. Pubs owned by “region­al inde­pen­dents” were rare on the ground. Most of the pubs have sad­ly now gone. The Sam Smith’s pub sur­vives but it lost its cask beer many years ago. The removal of cask from a whole swathe of their Lon­don pubs over a few days is anoth­er sto­ry.

  3. This remind­ed me of the mag­a­zine “London’s Pubs” which start­ed pub­li­ca­tion in Novem­ber 1971. It start­ed as a month­ly pub­li­ca­tion, on sub­scrip­tion at first but then went on gen­er­al sale. The last issue, as far as I know, was Octo­ber 1973. I have twen­ty issues cov­er­ing those three years. The first issue fea­tured a pub crawl from Black­fri­ars to Bor­ough, cook­ing with spir­it (in this case chick­en and white wine!) and haunt­ed pubs. That sort of mix­ture, a pub crawl, cook­ing item, pub of the month, land­lord in the lime­light etc was the for­mat through­out. Anoth­er inter­est­ing fea­ture was the Pub Enter­tain­ments page list­ing the live acts of Folk, Coun­try and West­ern, Jazz and Pop at pubs as var­i­ous as the famous Red Lion at Brent­ford (now a dri­ve through Mac­don­alds!), the Lord Napi­er at Thorn­ton Heath, and Wat­ney Tal­ly-Ho at Ken­tish Town.
    The Edi­tor was Robert Red­man. It was full colour on the out­side but with around thir­ty black and white pages on the inside.

    1. Sue – very inter­est­ing! We’ve nev­er heard of this pub­li­ca­tion. We’ll keep a look out for copies on Ebay.

      (PS. We got the copies of the Ring crawls you sent – thanks!)

Comments are closed.