BOOKS: A Scrapbook of Inns, 1949

The cover of A Scrapbook of Inns.

A Scrapbook of Inns by Rowland Watson, published in 1949, is a cut above the usual ‘quaint old inns’ hack job, its snippets of old books and articles acting as an effective index to beer and pub writing from public domain sources.

It’s not rare. We picked our copy up for £3.99 in a char­i­ty shop, still in its dust jack­et, and with a ded­i­ca­tion to ‘Syd­ney, with best wish­es from Rhode & all at Bed­ford, Christ­mas 1954’. There are plen­ty of copies for sale online at around the same price and we’ve seen mul­ti­ple copies in sec­ond­hand book­shops in the past year.

We think – assume – the author is the same Row­land Wat­son best known as a lit­er­ary edi­tor, born in 1890, and who died in 1968. He does­n’t have much to say about him­self in the fore­word, using those two brief para­graphs to ham­mer an impor­tant point: this anthol­o­gy is not a col­lec­tion of the usu­al quo­ta­tions from Pepys, Dr John­son and Dick­ens, but rather of obscu­ri­ties book­marked dur­ing decades of read­ing, most­ly from the 18th and ear­ly 19th cen­turies.

Now, of course, most of this stuff is quite easy to find in full, with search­able text, via online libraries (Google Books, Hathi Trust, Guten­berg, Archive.org) and news­pa­per archives. Even so, this book has direct­ed us to lots of things we would nev­er oth­er­wise have thought to explore, such as George Bor­row’s 1862 book Wild Wales which betrays the author’s pro­to beer geek­ery with tast­ing notes on Llan­golen ale (great) and Chester ale (so dis­gust­ing he spat it out of a win­dow). There’s arguably now so much digi­tised mate­r­i­al online that find­ing the good stuff can be a chal­lenge, and this col­lec­tion works as a kind of sift, point­ing straight to the gold.

It is organ­ised in two large sec­tions cov­er­ing (a) Lon­don and (b) the coun­try, with extracts grouped at the next lev­el down as tales of pub­li­cans, food and drink, curiosi­ties, ‘high jinks’ and so on.

A page spread from the book with full-page pub picture.

There are also lots of illus­tra­tions, all except one in black and white, rang­ing from quar­ter- to full-page. The paper is nice, too, and we bet more than few copies have been can­ni­balised to pro­vide framed pic­tures for pub walls.

By way of a taster of the con­tents, if we were still writ­ing our Devon Life col­umn we’d def­i­nite­ly take a look into ‘Ash­bur­ton Pop’, for which the small town was “as famous.… as Lon­don is for porter” accord­ing to a quo­ta­tion from the 1838 Table Book of William Hone:

I rec­ol­lect its sharp feed­ing good taste, far rich­er than the best small beer, more of the cham­pagne taste, and.… when you untied and hand-drew the cork, it gave a report loud­er than a pop gun, to which I attribute its name…

And the hor­rif­ic account of the prepa­ra­tion of tur­tles for eat­ing at The Bush, Bris­tol, c.1796, equalled only grim­ness by the tale of the Boscas­tle inn which served roast­ed baby seal with pota­toes, sug­gests an inter­est­ing line of research into grotesque pub foods of the past. (Far­thing pies at The Green Man, AKA The Far­thing Pie House, on Euston Road in Lon­don sound much more like it.)

In short, if you come across a copy of this for the price of a pin, grab it. Casu­al dip­pers will find plen­ty to enjoy, while schol­ar­ly types will almost cer­tain­ly find a source or two new to them, or the seed of a sto­ry wait­ing to be told.

5 thoughts on “BOOKS: A Scrapbook of Inns, 1949”

  1. Fan­tas­tic find B&B – ordered one already online.

    I assume you will have also seen ‘Tales of Old Inns’ by Richard Kev­erne? First pub­lished in 1939 and revised by Ham­mond Innes in 1947 because Richard K was too ill to do it. I have the April 1949 3rd edi­tion.
    Won­der­ful con­tem­po­rary writ­ing – takes you back to dif­fer­ent age, but inter­est­ing that changes to, and mod­i­fi­ca­tion of, pub­lic hous­es is very much a theme..
    “The old inn is a patch­work thing: it had to be. A suc­cess­ful inn was one that moved with the times.” begins chap­ter 1 ‘The Patch­work Eng­lish Inn’
    I won­der if Richard and Ham­mond realised where that would lead and I must admit I strug­gle with that con­cept today as more pubs get their inte­ri­ors ripped out and pub­cos ‘expert design­ers’ install some­thing more akin to a B&Q kitchen design.

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