Geoffrey Fletcher on Victorian Pubs, 1962

The cover of The London Nobody Knows, 1965 Penguin edition.

Geoffrey Fletcher (1923–2004) wrote and illustrated a lot of books – observations of the unglamorous end of London life, from pie shops to street markets.

His most famous book is The Lon­don Nobody Knows, pub­lished in 1962 and the basis of a cult doc­u­men­tary from 1969.

We’d pre­vi­ous­ly only read it in libraries but final­ly got our own copy last week­end – a 1965 Pen­guin edi­tion that cost £2.50.

Though most of Fletcher’s books men­tion pubs in pass­ing – we quot­ed a cou­ple in 20th Cen­tu­ry Pub – it’s in chap­ter eight of The Lon­don Nobody Knows that he real­ly sets out his man­i­festo:

One of the strik­ing char­ac­ter­is­tics of Lon­don pubs is the way in which dif­fer­ent pubs have an appeal to dif­fer­ent kinds of patrons.

To under­line his point he goes on to list var­i­ous types of pub, from legal pubs to “homo­sex­u­als’ pubs… where queers meet queers”.

Like Bet­je­man, Osbert Lan­cast­er, Rod­dy Gra­didge and oth­er con­tem­po­raries, Fletch­er believed that Vic­to­ri­an pubs were the pin­na­cle of the form:

Lon­don pubs are rich in the trap­pings of the Vic­to­ri­an age, which knew exact­ly how a town pub should appear. A fine one is illus­trat­ed here – the King and Queen in the Har­row Road. This is nine­teenth-cen­tu­ry Baroque at its most florid. Grey mar­ble columns ris­er from a mosa­ic floor, raised a step above the pave­ment. There is splen­did iron­work – iron let­ters and wrought iron – over the door. The words ‘Saloon Bar’ have a bucol­ic aban­don… The archi­tects of the late Vic­to­ri­an pubs and music-halls knew exact­ly what the sit­u­a­tion demand­ed – extrav­a­gance, exu­ber­ance, and plen­ty of dec­o­ra­tion for its own sake.

The King and Queen
The King and Queen, Har­row Road, as drawn by Geof­frey Fletch­er.

Oth­er pubs Fletch­er men­tions by name as good exam­ples include the Lamb in Lead­en­hall mar­ket (still worth stop­ping to look at today), the Black Fri­ar at Black­fri­ars, and the Crown on Cun­ning­ham Place, St John’s Wood/Maida Vale. The lat­ter is still there, appar­ent­ly with a nice­ly pre­served inte­ri­or, but as a gastropub/bistro called, for some rea­son, ‘Crocker’s Fol­ly’. Fletch­er also pro­vides draw­ings of The Lamb and The Black Fri­ar.

Beyond fix­tures and fit­tings, Fletch­er has views on pub cul­ture, too:

Although… the East End is los­ing some of its strong­ly focal char­ac­ter, the old life of the pubs in those parts of Lon­don still per­sists. A week­end pub crawl in such places as Shored­itch, Step­ney, and Hack­ney is the way to see it at first hand. Here the East End ‘ma’ con­tin­ues to flour­ish, the large sized, per­haps even pneu­mat­ic spec­i­men who was no stranger to Phil May and Albert Cheva­lier, joins in the cho­rus, sup­port­ed at the bar by a but­toned horse­hair seat and at the front by a large Guin­ness. Such peri­od char­ac­ters must dis­ap­pear some­time – that is where the funer­al par­lour comes in; if so, how­ev­er, they are at once replaced by repli­cas, pre­sum­ably on a sys­tem known only to the East End.

That’s yet more evi­dence of the link between women and stout, by the way, which we’ll file away for future ref­er­ence.

You can find copies of The Lon­don Nobody Knows knock­ing around in sec­ond-hand book shops or online, or there’s a fair­ly recent reprint and eBook edi­tion from the His­to­ry Press, with a fore­word by Dan Cruik­shank.

3 thoughts on “Geoffrey Fletcher on Victorian Pubs, 1962”

  1. See also https://whatpub.com/pubs/NLD/6187/crockers-folly-st-johns-wood

    Crocker’s Fol­ly is more Lebanese restau­rant with a bar (and bar menu) than any­thing else.

    The Lon­don Nobody Knows’ is also a doc­u­men­tary, based on the book, from the late ‘60s, avail­able on DVD pack­aged with anoth­er gem from that time, ‘Les Bicy­clettes de Bel­size’ .….… Direct­ed by Nor­man Cohen, and front­ed by James Mason.

    See:
    https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x5h8w0m
    https://smile.amazon.co.uk/London-Nobody-Knows-Bicyclettes-Belsize/dp/B000Z63ZNS and
    https://www.bfi.org.uk/news-opinion/news-bfi/interviews/going-back-london-nobody-knows
    https://www.theguardian.com/film/2003/nov/21/history
    http://psychogeographicreview.com/the-london-nobody-knows/
    http://spitalfieldslife.com/2009/12/30/james-mason-in-spitalfields/

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