London pubs from a woman’s perspective, 1964

A drawing of a pub.
The Kings Head and Eight Bells by John Cooper.

In 1964 Batsford published a guide to London with a twist: it was about where to go and what to do on sleepy Sundays. Such as, for example… visit the pub.

We picked up our copy of London on Sunday at Oxfam in Cotham for £3.99. It’s not a book we’ve ever encountered before, or even heard of.

We haven’t managed to find out much about the author, Betty James, either, except that she wrote a few other books, including London and the Single Girl, published in 1967, and London for Lovers, 1968. She was older than the girlish tone of the book might suggest – in her late forties, we gather – and twice divorced by the time she was profiled in the Newcastle Journal in 1969.

Before the main event, individual pubs crop up here and there – the Grapes in Wapping is accurately described as ‘an old sawdusty river pub’ where the staff give directions to a particularly good but hard-to-find Chinese restaurant.

One of the best lines in the book, thrown away in an itinerary for a walk, is, we’re certain, a dig at male guidebook writers of the period who couldn’t resist rating barmaids:

The Colville Tavern at 72 Kings Road… [has] the best-looking barman in London. Ask for Charles.

Pubs are given real, focused treatment in the dying pages of the book, which is a statement in its own right.

From Monday until Saturday this Sunday is the Local Public House of somebody else in whom once has no interest whatsoever. However… on Sunday at the hour of noon it is entered immediately by the knowledgeable tosspot in order that he may refresh himself in convivial company, while his wife cooks the joint to which he eventually return too late to avoid unpleasantness… Meanwhile, the regular visitor to this Sunday Pub (whose Local Public House it is from Monday until Saturday) will repair to another Sunday Pub because it is considered not schmaltzy to take drink in one’s own Local Public House upon a Sunday.

Inevitably, the first pub to get a write-up is the Grenadier, which we visited earlier this year:

This very old pub is impossible to find. You can wander around the chi-chi little mews surrounding it, absorbing the untraceable emanations of Guards subalterns and debutantes without actually ever seeing anything but a chi-chi little mews… A dread silence occasionally falls upon the place… [because] somebody has mislaid a debutante.

The Kings Head and Eight Bells in Chelsea sounds like fun, with people drinking outside in the embankment gardens on Sunday morning, or blocking the road ‘where they risk being knocked drinkless by other cognoscenti in fast sports job’. It is, Ms. James says, ‘exclusively patronised by absolutely everybody who isn’t anybody’. Sadly, this one seems to be a goner.

A drawing of a pub interior.
The interior of the Square Rigger by John Cooper.

Of course we got really excited at the description of a theme pub, the Square Rigger in the City, near Monument Station:

Fully rigged with seagull cries and the sound of breaking surf there is also an enormous social schism between the Captain’s Cabin and the Mess Decks both 1 and 2… ‘Tween decks there are rope ladders, sails, and yard-arms and that. Together with a lot of beautifully polished brass bar-top.

We see from whatpub.com that it was a notable booze bunker, before its demolition in the 1980s.

Back to those classic mews pubs of west London, the Star in Belgravia, of course, gets a mention, and rather a cheeky one: ‘Well now… The best thing we can say about this pub is that all the aforementioned missing debutantes may be discovered here… recovering… And some of them simply aching for the utter, utter blissikins of getting mislaid again as soon as possible’.

The Windsor Castle in Kensington apparently had ‘Luscious sandwiches’ and quite the scene going on, with actors in the bar and ‘a pig ogling a cow in the pleasant walled garden’.

The last pub tip is given reluctantly:

There is of course one Sunday Pub to which afficionados resort of a Sunday evening. However, it could so easily be completely ruined by hypermetropic invasion that I hardly like to mention it. This is the Lilliput Hall, a Courage’s house at 9 Jamaica Road SE1, where, at around 9 pm, commences the best not-too-far-out jazz this side of paradise. The hundred per cent professional group renderings are led by the guv’nor, Bert Annable, a name to be conjured with in the business, since he’s worked with Cyril Stapleton and Paul Fenoulhet, among others.

Sound like a laugh. Now, it goes without saying, flats, but the closedpubs.co.uk records some nice firsthand memories.

We reckon it’d have been quite nice to read an entire book about pubs by Betty James. She seems to have a feel for them, and her archness is amusing.

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