Something unusual happened in 1942: a new pub came into being. That’s right – not an inter-war pub, or post-war, but one built right in the thick of it.
When we wrote 20th Century Pub back in 2015-17, we included a chapter on the wartime pub because it felt important. Other chapters were about new developments and new types of pub coming into being; this was about recording a void, or pause.
Pubs weren’t built or opened during World War II, they were destroyed. Even if there had been a will to build, there was a shortage of manpower and building materials.
Of course there were odd exceptions: pubs whose construction was underway before the war, completed just over the line; and temporary pubs in shacks, sheds and stables which appeared later on.
But the Monckton in Portsmouth is, we think, the first example we’ve come across of a somewhat substantial, somewhat solid pub actually being built during World War II.
We say ‘somewhat’ because, well, look at it. A single storey, raw brick, no embellishments and windows like those of a pillbox. If you told us it was converted from an air-raid shelter, we wouldn’t doubt it.
Here’s what Philip Eley and R.C. Riley have to say in their excellent 1991 monograph on the Portsmouth pubs between 1900 and 1950:
[It employed] a beerhouse licence transferred from the Dockyard Tavern, Marlborough Row (which had been enveloped by the Dockyard extension)… The site had been bought by United Breweries in 1911, and remarkably, in the light of the ersatz nature of the ultimate construction, the first application for a licence in 1928 was backed by a design from [important local architect A.E.] Cogswell himself. Four subsequent unsuccessful applications between 1929 and 1939 can hardly have presaged what was arguably Portsmouth’s most distinctive drinking house until its closure in 1982.
The picture above, sourced from the same booklet, was taken in 1946 so this was clearly the pub in its finished state, not under construction as suggested here.
That page at closedpubs.co.uk includes another picture of the pub, though, prettied up in the post-war period, with rendering, whitewash and some cute external adornments.
Copnor Road in 1972 with The Monckton in the background, via The News, Portsmouth.
Like many make-do-and-mend pubs of the 1940s and early 1950s, The Monckton survived longer than might have been expected, still trading into the 1980s.
What isn’t immediately obvious is why construction of this pub was authorised during a time of restrictions.
“Bet this was controversial,” we said to ourselves and it didn’t take long to find evidence that, yes, it was, in the form of a letter to the Portsmouth Evening News published on 13 February 1942:
Sir – On Sunday night I listened to Sir Stafford Cripps giving his very interesting and informative talk on Russia’s mighty effort to win the war. During this talk every listener was more or less asked, by Sir Stafford, to search his or her conscience as to whether they were engaged on or doing 100 per cent, work and thought, to bring about the same conclusion… I always feel that it is not fair to judge a nation’s effort by one own city or locality. There would, however, appear to something wrong in Portsmouth when I notice this afternoon a new public-house being built on Copnor Road. Surely the men engaged in this contract, and the materials being used, could be put to our war effort, at this critical time? I know the answer will be “a licence was granted,” but what right had that particular public servant to grant such a licence? He was given his present position to control the building industry and direct its use to the war effort, not to evade the Government Order (Restricting New Buildings) by issuing permits. It appears to that we want quite a number of men in key positions who can say and definitely mean it.
Our guess, pending further research, is that it was a question of morale.
Portsmouth lost 73 pubs to enemy action during 1940-41 and Eley and Riley reckon more than a hundred had been destroyed by February 1942.
Perhaps sparing a few bricks for the construction of a basic two-room pub felt worth it.