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. 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.

  2. 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!)

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