Beer history pubs

Saddleworth Pub Carpets, 1966

Graham Turner’s fascinating 1967 book The North Country paints portraits of towns and cities from Wigan to Durham, often stopping off in pubs and clubs on the way.

You might remember us quoting from it before, on the subject of Pakistani migrants attempting to integrate into pub life in Bradford in the 1960s.

The rather less politically charged extract below, from a chapter called ‘Over the Top’ about Saddleworth Moor, grabbed our attention for a couple of reasons.

No group of people in the valley are in more demand than the members of the Boarshurst Silver Band. George Gibson, a large, enormously jovial man with a great red face who plays the ‘basso profundo’ and also teaches brass in the local schools, reckons to be out either playing or teaching ‘very near every night’… [He] said over a pint at the King William [that] finding players was not any particular problem – “you find me twenty-four instruments and I’ll find you twenty-four kids”. The King William, incidentally, is one of the pubs in Saddleworth which has treated itself to wall-to-wall carpeting, an extravagance which [local character] John Kenworthy thinks has changed them from forums of discussion into mere drinking places. At one end of the bar were a group of the men we had been drinking with the night before at the Gentleman’s [Club], now deeply engrossed in a catholic selection of racing papers. At the other were half a dozen men in overalls.


  1. Carpets were seen as taking pubs downmarket, somehow? Making them more frivolous?
  2. A reminder that pub carpets aren’t a great old tradition – they’re a relatively new development.
  3. And, carpets aside, a reminder of how class segregation can happen even without physical boundaries.

In case you’re wondering, by the way, the William IV is still there, and still trading as a pub.

6 replies on “Saddleworth Pub Carpets, 1966”

pub carpets aren’t a great old tradition

My sweet summer child(ren), carpets aren’t a great old tradition. Wall-to-wall carpeting in British housing isn’t, anyway – I grew up in houses with wall-to-wall lino and a few individual carpets or rugs (down the stairs, in the hall, in front of the fire, by your bed if you were lucky). If anything that pub was ahead of the trend; “wall-to-wall carpeting” was still being sold as something new & different well into the 1970s.

The bloke who seems to be saying the carpet destroyed the highbrow ambience does sound odd, but I think it makes sense if you think who in particular would have been put off by a bare-boards pub interior. I think he’s talking about women coming into the pub, in short, with the inevitable effect of disrupting the intellectual discussions which invariably break out when men are on their own (I’m sure Ray will confirm this). Army messes, boys’ boarding schools, rugby clubs – they’re all notorious havens of civilised conversation on serious topics, and at one time the public bar was no different. It’s the price of progress, I’m afraid.

Slightly provocative point, but I wonder how many of the ageless features of British pub life are actually fairly contingent things that just happened to be around their height of popularity when 60-something pub enthusiasts were in their prime? See also the idea of bitter as the authentic, unpretentious beer of the masses rather than “the bosses’ drink”.

As a folkie, I frequently come across songs and customs that are supposed to be authentic survivals from some incredibly distant era – the word ‘pagan’ gets thrown about a lot, which would presumably take us back to 400 AD or earlier. By way of a reality check, it’s interesting to think about just how far back any living person’s sense of “how things have always been” or “the way things used to be” can possibly go. I reckon it’s, at the very most, [your age] minus 5 for “how it’s always been” and [your age] plus 50 for “how it used to be” (tales of your parents’ childhood & your grandparents’ young days). Anything before that is just plain gone.

I think Douglas Adams absolutely nailed this. He was talking about technology, but it applies just as well to social and cultural stuff in my experience:
“I’ve come up with a set of rules that describe our reactions to technologies:
1. Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.
2. Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.
3. Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.”

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