Q&A: What’s the Story of Branded Pub Mirrors?

Do you have any information on the history of brewery and distillery branded mirrors? No one I’ve spoken to seems to know exactly why or how they started, or why they dropped off.” – Nathan, via Twitter

It’s often hard to pin­point the exact moment a trend began but we do know, first, that the pop­u­lar­i­ty of glass as a build­ing mate­r­i­al and for dec­o­ra­tion in par­tic­u­lar increased after the Great Exhi­bi­tion of 1851, the cen­tre­piece of which, the Crys­tal Palace, used glass with great extrav­a­gance.

The Crystal Palace.
SOURCE: The British Library.

We also know that tech­niques for cut­ting designs into large sheets of glass took off at around the same time lead­ing to ear­ly exam­ples of brew­ery-brand­ed glass pan­els and mir­rors, with only rel­a­tive­ly sim­ple designs, in the 1850s and 60s. A tech­nique known as ‘back-paint­ing’ became pop­u­lar in the 1870s and brought colour into play. (All of that accord­ing to Inside the Pub, McDun­net & Gorham, Archi­tec­tur­al Press, 1950.) By the end of the 19th cen­tu­ry a look and feel that had been the pre­serve of pri­vate homes and exclu­sive clubs was the pre­ferred style for grander city pubs. But dec­o­ra­tive glass  was still rel­a­tive­ly expen­sive, which brings us to the kind of brand­ed mir­rors Nathan has in mind.

In his essen­tial book Vic­to­ri­an Pubs, pub­lished in 1975 and revised in 1984, archi­tec­tur­al his­to­ri­an Mark Girouard sug­gests that brand­ed pub mir­rors real­ly became ‘a thing’ from the 1890s:

The pub­li­can who wished to econ­o­mize in the con­sid­er­able out­lay required to line his pub with dec­o­rat­ed glass could go in for adver­tis­ing mir­rors, which were pre­sum­ably paid for or sub­si­dized by the brew­eries and dis­tillers whose names they bore. These let­tered mir­rors, though not as lus­cious as the paint­ed glass pan­els which pre­ced­ed them, were suf­fi­cient­ly dec­o­ra­tive, and sur­vive in much larg­er num­bers. They were a spe­cial­i­ty of the Bril­liant Sign Com­pa­ny which estab­lished itself in Gray’s Inn Road [in Lon­don] in 1893. It stall of scrolled and gild­ed mir­rors, adver­tis­ing all the lead­ing brew­ers and dis­tillers, was a famil­iar and reg­u­lar fea­ture and the Licensed Vict­uallers Exhi­bi­tion for many years.

 

In oth­er words, fan­cy glass and mir­rors became a kind of spon­sored decor.

As to when this kind of mir­ror dropped off… Well, did they? There was def­i­nite­ly a trend away from the dis­play of ‘vul­gar’ adver­tis­ing mate­ri­als and towards plain­er pubs from World War I until the 1960s but there nonethe­less seem to be plen­ty of exam­ples of pub mir­rors from that peri­od. Here’s one from Ush­er’s of Trow­bridge, notice­ably more restrained than Vic­to­ri­an exam­ples, that must date from the 1920s or 1930s:

SOURCE: Worthpoint/Ebay

When new pubs were built in the post-WWII recon­struc­tion phase up to the ear­ly 1960s they tend­ed to have point­ed­ly mod­ern designs which eschewed any hint of the Vic­to­ri­an, but that real­ly only last­ed for a decade or so before a Vic­to­ri­an revival kicked off. Pub design­ers such as Ben Davis and Rod­er­ick Gra­didge regard­ed mir­rors as essen­tial for cre­at­ing atmos­phere and Davis, who designed pubs for Ind Coope from the 1950s onward, said in his 1981 book The Tra­di­tion­al Eng­lish Pub that by “using large framed mir­rors we can pen­e­trate walls, make sol­id screens trans­par­ent and giv­en an impres­sion of com­plex­i­ty”.

A mirror advertising Gold Label c.1970s.
Prob­a­bly from the 1970s, cer­tain­ly from after 1961.

When the sup­ply of gen­uine antique exam­ples recov­ered by brew­ers from their own defunct pubs or from archi­tec­tur­al sal­vage yards began to dry up, they began pro­duc­ing pas­tich­es. That’s why you see Tet­ley mir­rors absolute­ly every­where, most of which we’d guess (cor­rec­tions wel­come) date from the 1970s or even ear­ly 1980s, but which peo­ple often take to be much old­er.

Although small sou­venir-sized mir­rors for big inter­na­tion­al brands are avail­able, most­ly pitched at the so-called ‘man cave’ mar­ket, brew­eries these days don’t gen­er­al­ly go in for pro­duc­ing mir­rors, espe­cial­ly not huge ones. One excep­tion is Bris­tol brew­ery Dawkins whose founder, Glen Dawkins, makes his own DIY pub mir­rors which can be seen on dis­play at, for exam­ple, the Hill­grove Porter Stores. Until the next revival of Vic­to­ri­an style arrives, sweep­ing away the min­i­mal­ism and indus­tri­al chic of the past cou­ple of decades, we can’t imag­ine that chang­ing.


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One thought on “Q&A: What’s the Story of Branded Pub Mirrors?”

  1. Shrop­shire based Joule’s Brew­ery have made a big thing about brand­ed mir­rors in the refur­bish­ment of most (if not all) pubs in their estate. These are bespoke and I assume new.

    They specif­i­cal­ly men­tion on their web­site that their largest brand­ed mir­ror – adver­tis­ing Slum­ber­ing Monk – is to be found in Ye Olde Rose & Crown, Stafford.

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