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20th Century Pub pubs

Evidence of Brickwoods vs. United in Portsmouth

In Portsmouth, the Victorian and Edwardian pubs built by two competing breweries offer an interesting way of understanding and navigating the city.

We were tipped off to this by an architectural guide by Alan Balfour published in 1970.

In his three-page introduction, Mr Balfour dedicates a good chunk of text to pubs:

Later 19th century pubs, such as The Northcote Hotel and The Eastfield Hotel, are almost over-pretentious in contrast to their surroundings. This pretentiousness goes deeper than the street elevations – it confirms the separate identities of the two major brewers in the area at the end of the 19th century, Brickwoods and Portsmouth United Ales… The brewers’ house styles emerged towards the end of the century, United pubs being clad in a deep green tile on the ground floor, with arched openings, and light green glazed bricks above… Brickwoods developed an extravagant ‘Tudorbethan’ style, with endless variations in the pseudo-timber framing and decoration.

The letters P, B and U intertwined, in cream and green ceramics
An Edwardian logo for Portsmouth United Breweries from the former Egremont Arms.
A wrought-iron sign with elaborate curls and decoration.
A Brickwood & Co Ltd sign on the former White Swan, now a branch of Brewhouse & Kitchen.

On our first wander through town, we spotted examples of both. Some were trading, others were derelict, and still others had become nurseries or shops.

A large corner pub with half-timbering and an elaborate stained glass canopy over the door.
The Festing, a typical Brickwoods pub unfortunately afflicted by the grey plague.
The Leopold with heavy green tiling on the ground floor and signs that advertise "United IPA, the perfect beer" and "The Portsmouth and Brighton United Pale Ales".
A typical Portsmouth United Breweries pub with, we think, a 1920s makeover, based on the addition of ‘Brighton’ to the brewery name.
A backstreet corner pub in dark red fired brick and standard red brick.
The Mars, still trading, with shimmering red-pink mosaic on the signs.
A backstreet pub with cream, green and brown tiles and fired bricks. A sign above the window advertises United Pale Ales & Stout.
Round the corner from The Star, The Egremont Arms, now a nursery.
A tall pub building with a turret and half-timbering on the upper stories.
The Seagull, a very ostentatious Brickwoods pub, now an estate agent.
The ground floor of a former pub with brown fired bricks, a sign reading The Seagull and a plaster seagull over the door.
Another shimmering mosaic sign.

Where other breweries did have pubs in the city, we suppose they were obliged to try to keep up with the style and dazzle of Brickwoods and United.

A small pub building, now a gallery, with vibrant green tiling and Edwardian letting advertising Long's Ales & Stout.
The former Duchess of Fife, a Long’s pub on Castle Street.
The Eldon Arms, still trading, advertising Dorchester Crystal Ales.

As students of the post-war pub, we kept our eyes peeled for examples. Sadly, or not, depending on your point of view, much of post-war Portsmouth has been torn down. When The Tricorn shopping centre went, two pubs went with it – good ones, too, according to Alan Balfour:

Owen Luder set a new standard in the Tricorn with The New Bell and The Casbah. They have been altered lately, but The New Bell is especially exciting, with its bright tiles, exposed concrete columns, a variety of spaces and complex manipulation of plan and section.

We did pause to admire The Raven, though, in all its flat-roofed glory.

We actually only drank in one the pubs pictured above, though, which is odd. We had a hit list of pubs which we were told had decent or interesting beer and none of those were particularly interesting to look at. More on that in another post later this week.

4 replies on “Evidence of Brickwoods vs. United in Portsmouth”

I love a good tiled facade. About half the images in the post don’t seem to be displaying for me?

There are certainly some great examples of extravagant pub architecture in Portsmouth – I like the comment about the Northcote and the Earlsfield being “almost over-extravagant in contrast to their surroundings”. I’d also include The Fountain in the North End area, The Coach & Horses in Hilsea, maybe The Mermaid in Copnor too, plus others.

I always thought that it might be partly tied in with Portsmouth’s Royal Navy heritage. Many of the city’s pubs have almost a theatre feel about them – built to serve and entertain the thousands of sailors on shore-leave in the most extravagant way possible. Instead of homes for heroes, it’s almost pubs for heroes.

Personally, I always find pubs in ports to have their own distinct atmosphere, something you don’t get inland. Whether it’s frigates out of Portsmouth, submarines out of Plymouth, trawlers out of Brixham, cross-channel ferries out of Dover, cruiseliners out of Southampton, cargo freighters out of Liverpool or oil-rigs out of Aberdeen – it’s always someone’s first day back on-shore or someone else’s last day before setting sail. Perhaps not to the extent that it once way, and certainly not to the extent when these pubs were first built, but there’s still something in the DNA of a port city’s drinking-culture that I think perhaps shines through in this architecture.

There’s a whole genre of folk songs about sailors drinking their pay and going out to sea again flat broke. Some romanticise it but most are more cynical, with lines like
When your money’s all gone
It’s the same old song:
“Get up, Jack! John, sit down!

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