20th Century Pub pubs

The mystery of the Middlesex magistrates

One of the most frustrating parts of writing a book is having a theory but being unable to prove it. For example, we reckon Edwardian West London got improved pubs early because of the attitudes of the local licensing magistrates.

When we were researching 20th Century Pub we sought to trace the roots of the improved and enlarged inter-war suburban pub through a variety of movements and schemes – the Trust Houses, the Carlisle experiment, coffee shops and temperance houses. 

However, we also noticed that there were examples of pubs being built in similarly modest, up-to-date styles by private companies in the early twentieth century, particularly in West London, which were ostensibly nothing to do with these movements.

Pubs such as The Forester in Ealing (1909) and the Three Horseshoes in Southall (1916), both by Nowell Parr, showed a yearning for a rural, historic ideal.

Our general impression was that there seem to have been a lot of new pubs built in West London at this time, bucking the general trend for reducing the number of licences and the number of pubs.

We didn’t quite have the numbers to state this confidently in the book, though, although we did spend a fair bit of time looking at Middlesex Licensing sessions in the London Metropolitan Archive.

What we really wanted, but never found, was evidence that Middlesex magistrates looked favourably upon the right type of pub application from the right type of brewery. Fuller’s and The Royal Brentford Brewery seemed to have been particularly successful, for example. Meanwhile, Watney’s, Charrington and other big London brewers are notably underrepresented in the Edwardian period.

Or even, perhaps, we might have found that the magistrates helped influence the design of pubs in this area: “Do it this way, lads, and we’ll sign it off.”

Perhaps, though, it was less complicated than that. Maybe Middlesex magistrates, covering a huge area, were doing exactly the kind of thing that happened in Birmingham and other cities: refusing licences in slum districts but allowing them in well-behaved, leafy suburbs. But we don’t think so. In Birmingham, this kind of switch was often made explicit and we didn’t notice any such statements in the London records.

One day, when we’re allowed back in libraries, we’ll have another go at this. Somewhere in the paperwork – perhaps in the Fuller’s archive that we almost but not quite got into in 2016 – there must be notes on each of these individual licencing decisions.

In the meantime, we’ll think fondly of wandering around suburban streets with more than their fair share of unusually wonderful, remarkably beautiful pubs.

3 replies on “The mystery of the Middlesex magistrates”

Do you know if these were new licences, or were they transferred from older pubs? Breweries had more chance of closing abn old pub and building a nice new one than upgrading an existing pub.

You might be able to find more information in the newspaper archives. Theyre are often repotys of licensing sessions in local papers.

You referred to your field work in West (and of course SW – in Kew) London. I had missed that one. On Chiswick Bitter, a delightful biscuity number, that was a regular after work pint in the Leather Sellar in Bermondsey 20 years ago, and always a better pint, AFAIR John did confirm at some point that the reason for the drop in sales was the combination of no marketing spend having decided to make Pride the national/international flagship and the need to fit in the other more ‘modish’ beers coming to the fore. It didn’t even last more than a season, possibly two autumns, as a seasonal beer.

The Tap on the Line you didn’t linger over too long, though its history as a station buffet as been so far elusive. It was only taken over by Fuller’s relatively recently (2012?), and I’ve only been in a handful of times, the last being for the wake for SPEW and CAMRA stalwart Bill English. It dates though not so much as a station buffet (I don’t recall seeing that at all) but more recently to the Bruce Firkin Chain in the 1980s. I don’t recall going in, though in the 1980s I was a regular changer of trains at Denmark Hill (Phoenix and Firkin, in the old station building mainly booking office I think), and the Friesian and Firkin Old Town Clapham (directly opposite a friend’s flat, and handy, though we tended to go to the Prince of Wales, or the Rose and Crown).

It is referred to in planning applications as ‘British Rail buffet building for use as public house’ e.g. 87/1508 when the applicant was listed as Bruces Brewery, and in 81/1424 British Rail is listed as the applicant, and before that British Transport Hotels Ltd in 73/2160. Frustratingly so far very little detail about the building / premises have been retrievable though there is a possible reference to land use as past industrial. 1948. 1951. R/165/02. Motor Body Builders. but refers just to station approach.

The railway station listing details (Grade II) don’t refer to the buffet Fuller’s appear to know more – but me, I invariably have used the underpass to get to the pub or most recently into Kew Gardens themselves.

“Kew Gardens station was opened by the London and South Western Railway on 1st January 1869. It is one of the few remaining 19th-century stations on the North London Line, and the only station on the London Underground network that still has a pub attached.

The two-storey yellow-brick station buildings are rare, fine examples of mid-Victorian railway architecture, and are protected as part of the Kew Gardens conservation area. The footbridge to the south of the station is also noteworthy and is Grade II listed in its own right.

The railway line bisected Kew, but it was not until 1912 that the bridge was provided to allow residents to cross the tracks safely. It is a rare surviving example of a reinforced concrete structure built using the pioneering technique of French engineer François Hennebique. The bridge has a narrow deck and very high walls, originally designed to protect its users’ clothing from the smoke of steam trains passing underneath. It also has protrusions on either side of the deck to deflect smoke away from the bridge structure.

What now stands as The Tap on The Line was originally the station’s Timber Steaming Hall. Later, it became the Buffet Rooms, before it was finally converted into a pub.”

Further research would be called for indeed, when the archives and libraries re-open

Just a further brief comment on Tap on the Line – there’s also an application apparently for the same premises for ‘Single storey extension to north elevation to be used as a boiler house and installation of a kitchen extraction flue to southern elevation’ applicant Adams Garden Ltd and premises named as Pig and Parrott Public House Kew Gardens Station Station Approach Kew 88/2399. See page 7 London Drinker November 1988 – our reviewer was unimpressed.

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