J.B. Priestley on Improved Pubs in the Midlands, 1934

A pull quote from the text below.

The passage below appears in English Journey by J.B. Priestley, published in 1934, and just reprinted in hardback by Great Northern Books, though we found our copy for £4 in the local Amnesty bookshop.

A hun­dred pages in, it’s a fas­ci­nat­ing, rather sour view of a land of cheap rain­coats and glum hotel bars, but it’s impos­si­ble to write about Eng­land with­out at least acknowl­edg­ing pubs, and the 1930s were an espe­cial­ly inter­est­ing time.

We’ve tak­en the lib­er­ty of insert­ing some extra para­graph breaks for read­ing on a screen:

Half-shaved, dis­il­lu­sioned once more, I caught the bus that runs between Coven­try and Birm­ing­ham… We trun­dled along at no great pace down pleas­ant roads, dec­o­rat­ed here and there by the pres­ence of new gaudy pubs. These pubs are a marked fea­ture of this Mid­lands land­scape.

Some of them are admirably designed and built; oth­ers have been inspired by the idea of Mer­rie Eng­land, pop­u­lar in the neigh­bour­hood of Los Ange­les. But whether come­ly or hideous, they must all have cost a pot of mon­ey, prov­ing that the brew­ers… still have great con­fi­dence in their prod­ucts.

At every place, how­ev­er, I noticed that some attempt had been made to enlarge the usu­al attrac­tions of the beer-house; some had bowl­ing greens, some adver­tised their food, oth­ers their music. No doubt even more ambi­tious plans for amuse­ment would have been put into force  if there had been no oppo­si­tion from the tee­to­tallers, those peo­ple who say they object to pub­lic-hous­es because you can do noth­ing in them but drink, but at the same time stren­u­ous­ly oppose the pub­li­cans who offer to give their cus­tomers any­thing but drink.

The trick is – and long has been – to make or keep the beer-house dull or dis­rep­utable, and then to point out how dull or dis­rep­utable it is. Is is rather as if the rest of us should com­pel tee­to­tallers to wear their hair long and unwashed, and then should write pam­phlets com­plain­ing of their dirty habits: “Look at their hair,” we should cry.

For more on inter-war improved pubs, with their bowl­ing greens and tea­rooms, see chap­ter 2 of our 20th Cen­tu­ry Pub.

3 thoughts on “J.B. Priestley on Improved Pubs in the Midlands, 1934”

  1. inspired by the idea of Mer­rie Eng­land, pop­u­lar in the neigh­bour­hood of Los Ange­les

    A (FORMER) SUB-EDITOR WRITES:
    Hmm – did you inad­ver­tent­ly insert that com­ma along with the para­graph breaks? He seems to be refer­ring to the spe­cif­ic idea of Mer­rie Eng­land which is pop­u­lar in the neigh­bour­hood of Los Ange­les

    The trick is – and long has been – to make or keep the beer-house dull or dis­rep­utable, and then to point out how dull or dis­rep­utable it is.

    Ha! See also “max­imis­ing the num­ber of health con­di­tions and hos­pi­tal admis­sions asso­ci­at­ed with alco­hol, and then point­ing out how many there are”.

  2. My dad’s local was the Good Com­pan­ions, South Yard­ley, Birm­ing­ham, one of sev­er­al 1930s reformed pubs on Priestley’s bus jour­ney. It had a bowl­ing green, a ball­room and sev­er­al bars (includ­ing two pub­lic bars known by reg­u­lars as the Irish bar and the Welsh bar). When Mitchells and But­lers sought plan­ning per­mis­sion to demol­ish it in the 1980s an elder­ly res­i­dent remind­ed them of their pre-war promis­es to pro­vide the neigh­bour­hood with oppor­tu­ni­ties for “refresh­ment and recre­ation”. Nev­er­the­less it was pulled down to be replaced by a Trav­elodge and a fast food restau­rant. In turn that has giv­en way to anoth­er lack­lus­tre pub called the Shoot­ing Star — alas no bowl­ing green, not even a dart­board.

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