An Enormous Drinking Barracks, 1959

"Public Bar" -- sign on pub door.

Among the literary sources we identified but did not have space to mention in 20th Century Pub was Keith Waterhouse’s 1959 comic social realist novel Billy Liar.

It con­tains a chap­ter in which Bil­ly Fish­er, an aspir­ing come­di­an and writer in the fic­tion­al York­shire town of Strad­houghton, prac­tices his stand-up rou­tine at a local pub:

The New House was an an enor­mous drink­ing bar­racks that had been built to serve Cher­ry Row and the streets around it. The New House was not its prop­er title. Accord­ing to the flood­lit inn-sign stuck on a post in the mid­dle of the emp­ty car park, the pub was called the Who’d A Thought It. There had been a lot of spec­u­la­tion about how this name had come about, but what­ev­er the leg­end was it had fall­en com­plete­ly flat in Clo­g­iron Lane. Nobody called the pub any­thing but the New House.

There was a windy, rub­ber-tiled hall­way where the chil­dren squat­ted, eat­ing pota­to crisps and wait­ing for their moth­ers. Two frost­ed-glass doors, embossed with the brew­ery trade­mark, led off it, one into the pub­lic bar and one into the saloon…

The men who say [in the pub­lic bar] were refugees from the warm ter­race-end pubs that had been pulled down; they around drink­ing mild and call­ing to each oth­er across the room as though noth­ing had changed… The few items in the New House that gave it any­thing like the feel of a pub – the dart­board, the crib­bage mark­ers, the scratched blind-box, and the pok­er­work sign that said IYBMADIBYO, if you buy me a drink I’ll buy you one – were all part of the same portable world, as if they had been wheeled here in prams in the flight from the old things.

This fic­tion­al pub has a con­cert hall which sug­gests to us that Water­house had in mind one built between the wars rather than in the peri­od after World War II.

The Belle Isle, on an estate not far from where Water­house grew up, is one pos­si­ble can­di­date as a mod­el – a drink­ing bar­racks indeed, but now a nurs­ing home.

2 thoughts on “An Enormous Drinking Barracks, 1959”

  1. The orig­i­nal Rovers Return in Coro­na­tion Street also had a con­cert room, called the Select, which I vague­ly remem­ber putting on Christ­mas shows until the mid-80s.

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