In 1987, the end was near for The British Oak at Poplar, East London, because Docklands, with a capital D, was coming into being and a compulsory purchase order had been served.
We came across this small story of the loss of a specific pub through ‘Eastenders’, an episode of the ITV weekly documentary series World In Action available via BritBox. Jess being a Londoner, and Ray being a hopeless nostalgist, we often find ourselves watching this kind of thing and there’s invariably a pub somewhere among the grainy footage.
The London Docklands Development Corporation (LDDC) was set up by the Government in 1981 with the intention of regenerating what had become largely wasteland as London’s docks moved out of the city to places like Tilbury, as a result of containerisation. The LDDC was given unusual powers to grant planning permission and issue compulsory purchase orders – whatever it took to make this land profitable, in short.
At the time, much was made of the effects of this regeneration programme on local people, many of whom faced eviction, with the LDDC insistent that it was under no obligation to provide replacement housing. Roads needed widening, railways needed building, and old buildings couldn’t get in the way of progress.
The British Oak was a victim of the same process. As the narrator explains:
The landlord of the British Oak hoped to see some benefit from the changes. Four years ago he sold his home and put his life savings into the pub. When he bought it, the Corporation told him there were no plans for this street. Now, they want him out.
The landlord isn’t named in the documentary – does anybody know who he was? – but he and his wife were certainly not impressed:
Her: I’ll stay until they put a bulldozer through it.
Him: And then I will drive a bulldozer through the London Dockland Development Corporation’s guv’nor’s house myself.
It was a free house in 1986, formerly an Allied Breweries pub, formerly Ind Coope, formerly Taylor Walker. The building we see in the documentary dates from 1927.
The interesting thing is that, despite the melancholy tone of the documentary, the pub building survived much longer than might have been expected. London pub historian Ewan Munro suggests it was there until around 2003, although it seems to have ceased trading much earlier, in around 1991.
In fact, this makes it worse, doesn’t it? They bought out the landlord, shut the pub down and then… Did nothing with it for more than a decade? Then they built a small surgery with a car park. The road wasn’t widened. No great Progress was made.
It turns out the LDDC was responsible for the demolition of several pubs in the 1980s including this one described in The London Drinker for July 1988:
Another East End landmark has disappeared, this time due to the LDDC (London Docklands Demolition Co – sorry, that should read Development Co). What was lastly called Lipstick and before that the Londoner, originally the Eastern Hotel, 2 East India Dock Road E14, has been demolished. Originally it was a Truman house and had an illuminated moving one-legged Ben Truman hopping across the front of the building proclaiming that there were more hops in Ben Truman.
Now that we would have liked to have seen.
And if not pubs, what did the LDDC want? Well, wine bars, of course. Mangetout, Rodney – mangetout!
There are things in ‘Eastenders’ that feel both familiar and strange. On the one hand, we’re still living in the age of the property developer, for whom pubs are too often an obstacle to be removed to make way for flats. On the other hand, however, it’s startling to hear yuppie talking heads ‘saying the quiet part out loud’:
It’s really up to [the local people] to see the benefits and opportunities… Certainly I think there’s winners and losers in any situation in life. In Docklands, the people I work with and the people I’ve met generally find Docklands to be a successful area to be living and working in… I think the resistance is a lack of understanding of what is being created here… Local people are not used to the kind of change that is happening and they don’t understand the kind of change that is happening to them.
In the early 20th century The Boot, a pub on the High Street in Edgware, North London, was the focal point for a battle between brewers and licensing magistrates. Was it one pub too many, or did it perform a vital social function?
It’s about how the pub was initially refused renewal of its licence by the local justices but had that decision overturned by the Middlesex Licensing Committee – twice.
What seems to have happened is that the local justices were keen to close the pub purely because, in their view, there were too many in the area.
Look at the map above (via the National Library of Scotland) and you’ll see that there were, indeed, quite a few ‘P.H.’ in the area, not to mention the Railway Hotel just up the road.
But the magistrates were unable to provide any convincing evidence as to why that pub in particular should be the one to close.
They had tried the previous year, and the decision had been overturned by the licensing committee.
The full newspaper report paints a fascinating picture of the changing, evolving nature of pubs at this time, particularly in growing suburbs:
The house was small, the bars were extremely small, and the roofs so low that a person wearing a hat could hardly stand upright. The house was 31 yards from fully-licensed house, The Red Lion, the same side of the road, and about yards from a commodious, well-built, and fairly new beer house called The Surrey Arms, also on the same side of the road. The other direction, 220 yards away, was The King’s Arms, another fully-licensed house. All of these three houses were very superior accommodation to The Boot. The total population within a quarter of a mile radius, as near as could be ascertained, was 350. that at the present moment there were four licences within the area for 350 people.
The representative for the Gore Division justices (who were the ones that turned down the renewal) went on to say that
as the brewers had another house in the immediate neighbourhood, it could not be argued that those who liked the beer to be obtained at The Boot would suffer. They would hear that the other house, The Surrey Arms, coupled with the two fully-licensed houses, could easily deal with the trade which at present was being done at The Boot, and if the other side argued that it could not, then there was plenty of room for enlargement.
He also said that beer being served through windows was causing blockages in the passage outside.
In an unusual defence of this sort of pub, theChairman of the committee “suggested that The Surrey Arms might not be so attractive to people in humble life” and that he “understood The Boot was a favourite house with this class of people”.
The justices’ representative replied that “he quite appreciated the point that there were always people who preferred a house where they might touch the ceiling in preference to a better building, but in considering whether a house was redundant they must differentiate the ordinary rules and consider which were the better premises”.
There is then a fairly lengthy recap of a report that was commissioned comparing The Boot to The Surrey Arms – “an excellently arranged house”.
A local policeman then gave witness and said there had been “no complaint” about the conduct of The Boot. After further appeals from the licensee’s representative, pointing out how much trade The Boot did, and how difficult it would be for The Surrey Arms to absorb this, the Committee upheld their decision from the previous year to renew the licence.
They refrained from ticking off the local justices for bringing the case back with no new evidence but there’s certainly an undercurrent of irritation evident in the report.
The Boot was demolished in the 1960s and replaced with a modern shopping precinct fittingly called Boot Parade.
The Surrey Arms continued in various forms, including as a Shisha Lounge and a night club, until it was eventually demolished in May 2020.
Meanwhile, there is an ongoing campaign to save the nearby Railway Hotel, with a petition here.
We recently gave a talk to the 20th Century Society about 20th century pubs in Bristol. This blog post is taken from the material that we used.
We hardly mention any Bristol pubs in 20th Century Pub, although this wasn’t for lack of trying. In many ways, what happened in Bristol is typical of the general story of pubs in the 20th Century, including the fact that not many survive and those that do have lost most of their period features.
Not many pubs were built at all at the start of the century, full stop. After a large increase in the number of beer houses in the mid-nineteenth century there was something of a backlash against pubs. Magistrates, encouraged by the temperance movement, began to make it harder to get licences, and if you wanted to build a pub in a newly expanded area of the city there was often an expectation that you should give up a licence or three in the city centre.
Bristol magistrates received 42 applications to create new licences in the period 1886 to 1896 but none was granted… The pattern of licence reduction continued in Bristol after 1900. At the beginning of the twentieth century the city had 471 alehouses, 567 ‘on’ beerhouses and 240 ‘off’ beerhouses. Two refreshment houses held wine licences and 87 grocers were licensed, a total net decrease of 18 licences on the previous year.74 In 1911, the city had 421 alehouses, 443 ‘on’ beerhouses, 231 ‘off’ beerhouses and one refreshment house with a wine licence. Seventy-four grocers were licensed and 26 chemists. There was a net decrease of 21 licences in that year.75 In the ten years from 1904 to 1914 there was a total reduction of 184 licences of all types across the city.
However, Bristol does have a couple of what we call ‘smart’ proto-improved pubs – that is, built in the Edwardian period to serve new areas and new clienteles. TheCambridge Arms (Redland) and The Langton Court (St Annes/Brislington) are both examples of something which is neither a Victorian gin palace nor a back street boozer. They’re solid, respectable and modern. Both evoke images of ‘the old inn’ while also fitting in with the Victorian and Edwardian suburban homes that surround them.
We take it for granted today that a pub will have toilet facilities for women but this wasn’t always the case – and they arrived surprisingly late in the game.
What prompted us to look into this, as is so often the case these days, was a question asked on Twitter:
Though we’ve written extensively about 20th century pubs, and a fair bit about Victorian ones, and occasionally about pub toilets (oh, the glamour!) this wasn’t something we felt able to answer off the top of our heads.
Grabbing a couple of books, we gave a provisional response…
…and then spent yesterday evening and a little time this morning digging further.
The first stop was Mark Girouard’s Victorian Pubs from 1975. This hefty book goes into enormous detail on the development of pubs in the 19th century and, helpfully, includes quite a few floor plans of important or typical establishments.
In the example above, photographed from original architect’s plans, you can see that the only toilet facilities at all are two urinals on the far side of the billiard room. The pub in question is The Assembly House in Kentish Town, North London, built in 1896, as a big, beautiful state of the art city pub – not some ancient provincial grot-hole.
Is the omission of toilet facilities an oddity of this particular establishment? Perhaps they just forgot to put them in?
Well, other plans in the book – not always original, sometimes redrawn – show pubs from around the same time with urinals only, sometimes in the yard or leaning against an outer wall of the pub.
One particularly interesting example, The Queen Victoria in Southwark Park Road, actually lost its ‘WC’ in an 1891 refit, thereafter having only one small urinal – but more drinking space.
Girouard provides floor plans of all four floors of the grand Elephant and Castle, built in 1897. The ground floor has no toilet facilities at all; on the second floor, again accessible only via the ‘billiard saloon’, there are ‘Gents’. The hotel rooms on the third floor share a single ‘WC’ – presumably reserved for guests.
By the late Victorian era many local authorities were providing public conveniences. It was routine to find toilets in workplaces, railway stations, parks, shops, pubs, restaurants and an array of other places… The vast majority of the early facilities only served men. One explanation may be that Victorian society believed ‘modest’ women would not wish to be seen entering a public convenience… The lack of provision for women meant that they were often forced to stay close to home. This restriction is known as the ‘urinary leash’. Today some consider it to be a deliberate means of controlling women’s movements and ambitions outside of the home.
With that in mind, it makes sense that little would be done to provide ladies’ toilets in pubs, where women were not quite welcome or proper. That’s not to say women didn’t go to pubs or enjoy drinking – only that they were primarily male spaces where women were more-or-less grudgingly permitted, and judged.
It feels obvious but we can probably say, then, that ladies’ toilets in pubs became more common, then standard, as the presence of women in pubs became more common, then standard.
That aligns broadly with:
women’s liberation during and after World War I
the ‘improved public house’ movement.
In his 1947 book The Renaissance of the English Pub architect and historian Basil Oliver provides plans of many pubs built during the first half of the 20th century, on ‘improved’ lines. Most of these do include a ‘Ladies Lav’, ‘Ladies WC’ or even ‘Ladies cloaks’. He provides interesting commentary, too:
[On] the general question of lavatories, a most important one in planning a public house. Mr. H. R. Gardner, F.R.I.B.A., in an article on ‘The Modern Inn, Design and Planning’, refers to the arrangement of the entrances to men’s and women’s lavatories which, as he concisely puts it, ‘may be placed directly from their respective bars, with proper supervision, but in no way secluded; and on the other hand they may be placed near the entrances to the bars and dining room with less supervision but more seclusion. In the smaller houses economy may be achieved by placing one lavatory for men between the saloon and public bars, with an entrance from each.’… Town standards in sanitary arrangements are not invariably applicable to public houses in country towns and rural places. Even where lavatories are incorporated inside the building, in the up-to-date manner, it is usually desirable in any case to supplement them with urinals in yards and gardens. Customers expect to find them there and, if nuisance is to be avoided, such conveniences should be provided. The habits of centuries can be neither suddenly nor easily changed…
He also observes that “ample and convenient lavatory accommodation, for both sexes” was a notable feature of pubs in the Carlisle State Management Scheme, from 1916 onward. In Liverpool, he tells us, there was an expectation that brewers would include separate facilities for men and women on both the cheap and more exclusive sides of each pub. Here’s an example, The Farmers’ Arms, Huyton, from 1934:
So, to answer that original question, a pub with ladies’ toilets wouldn’t have been astonishing in 1930 but would have been a sign that it was an up-to-date establishment.
In 1901, James Hamilton Muir conducted a survey of life in Scotland’s biggest city, including notes on its pubs and the drinking habits of its citizens.
Now, Glasgow is well off our beat, though we very much enjoyed our stay there a couple of years ago. When we wrote 20th Century Pub, after a little hesitation, we decided to focus on England rather than wade into the complexities of cross-jurisdictional licencing law and drinking culture.
Still, every now and then, we stumble upon something interesting about Scotland and decide it’s worth flagging, more in the hope that someone with local knowledge will dig deeper.
This time, it’s Muir’s book Glasgow in 1901. Who was Muir? Apparently, he didn’t exist – it was a shared pseudonym for James Bone, a journalist, and churchman Archibald Charteris.
In a section entitled ‘His Howffs’, they describe the late-Victorian Glaswegian’s preferred haunts starting, perhaps surprisingly, with tea shops, or tea rooms:
It is not the accent of the people, nor the painted houses, nor yet the absence of Highland policemen that make the Glasgow man in London feel that he is in a foreign town and far from home. It is a simpler matter. It is the lack of tea shops. You understand and sympathise with the question that he never fails to put to his southern friend, ‘A say, whit do you folk dae when ye want a good cuppa tea?’ And the Londoner, what can he answer? Barring gin palaces and restaurants (where tea is equally tabooed) he knows no middle between, let us say, Fuller’s on the one hand and a shop of the Aerated Bread Company on the other… Glasgow, in truth, is a very Tokio for tea rooms. Nowhere can one have so much for so little, and nowhere are such places more popular or frequented.
A while ago, we wrote about the erotic fixation on barmaids which marks much Victorian and Edwardian writing about pubs. Tea shops, it seems, had a similar appeal:
The girls who now are waitresses in tea shops would have been domestic servants fifteen years ago… Once installed, she may discover that a covey of young gentlemen wait daily for her ministrations, and will even have the loyalty to follow her should she change her employer. This is the only point in which she resembles a barmaid, from whom in all others she must be carefully distinguished. She is less the Juno, and more the Cricket on the Hearth; less knowing, less familiar with the eccentricities of bibulous man, more quiet and domesticated… To other people she has a more human interest, and to a young man coming without friends and introductions from the country, she may be a little tender. For it is not impossible that, his landlady apart, she is the only petticoated being with whom he can converse without shame.
Some, ‘Muir’ tells us, saw tea shops as a newfangled distraction, luring young men from the pubs where, by rights, they ought to be:
It is said that the tea shops have done away with the daylight drinking which used to be common among Glasgow clerks a decade or two ago. Of these stirring times legends still exist in many offices, and the raw novice is told how, when the first of the month fell upon a Saturday, the whole staff, braving the ‘guvemors,’ would sally forth in the forenoon to a howff in Drury Street and leave the porter to keep the office; or how the process clerk of a lawyer’s firm would each morning, punctually at ten, leave his desk under the pretext of ‘business at court,’ and late in the afternoon return warm with liquor and less than steady of foot. These days have gone for good or bad, and the clerk of the period must, at least by day, be reckoned among the sober people… And so perhaps there is something in the complaint of men who have come back from the hard drinking of their youth, that tea shops are a snare for the feet of the young. In the old days, they say, to frequent a public-house demanded of a man a certain inclination towards licence, a certain disregard for propriety ; in fact, a certain pronouncedness of character. Hence youths of rectitude passed by on the other side. Nowadays, the very innocence of the liquid purveyed in a tea shop is the devil’s own device for soothing the conscience of the strictly bred. They enter, thinking no evil, and at the end issue as tea-sodden wretches that are worse than drunkards. Moreover, they inhale the smoke of cheap cigarettes.
Having read more than one recent elegy for the death of daytime drinking and the lunchtime pint, it’s amusing to think that this was written more than a hundred years ago.
Before we get to pubs, the next category of ‘howff’ is the club – ‘If the tea shops are meant for the coming man, clubs exist for the man who has arrived, and public-houses for him who is overdue.’ These were exclusive, ‘Muir’ suggests, but hardly impressive: ‘The New Club has a most imposing house in West George Street… [but] has rather the air of being about to fall into the street’.
So, finally, we get to the main event – Glasgow pubs at a time when it was the second city of a global empire. Surely something special, right?
You cannot say that in Glasgow they have a distinctive character. They are of the most ordinary kind — brilliant, garish places, with barrels behind the counter, sawdust on the floor, and the smell of fermented liquor in the air. They are purely shops for perpendicular drinking, for the Magistrates, in the interests of the young, have succeeded in making them places in which no man, from the fatigue of standing, will linger long.
Oh. That’s a disappointment.
An interesting side note provided at this point concerns Manchester pubs which ‘Muir’ tells us was famous for its ‘sing-songs’ and ‘cosies’. These ‘random gatherings’ of people singing together were, ‘Muir’ suspected, fundamentally ‘un-Scots’: ‘It offends one’s sense of reserve, even one’s self-respect, and perhaps it is incompatible with the drinking of whisky.’
The prevalence of whisky drinking, the lack of seating and the foul weather seem, in the jaundiced view of ‘Muir’, to have made a big night out in Glasgow something of an ordeal:
[The] public-houses of Glasgow are crowded, garish, inhuman, unmerry places, to which men come for refuge from the rain. They have no provision for a continued sojourn. So rare are seats, that if there chance’s to be a sitting-room in the shop a ticket is placed in the window to announce the fact. Thereby they encourage drinking, if not in one particular public-house, at least in several. For, after a while standing grows wearisome, and the frozen stare of the barmen at your elbow makes you unwelcome if you do not drink up and have another, and so your idle person goes out in the wet street, and once more, when the desolation of the rainy night has seized upon him, enters another public-house, to find as before that the relief is short. Then out again, and in once more, and so on till the clock strikes eleven, and the devious direction is home. A natural instinct for comradeship and brightness has driven him from a squalid home into illuminated streets, and from these the weather drives him for shelter to the public-house. Tis his only refuge from discomfort and weariness, and if he goes home drunk, he never meant to, and you cannot blame him.
What’s really interesting is the conclusion to which this leads ‘Muir’: to tackle the problem of excessive drinking, make pubs nicer places to be. This is very much in line with the trend towards ‘improved public houses’ in England at around the same time:
And if that is a task too great for a municipality, or even for the State, then as a makeshift the publicans must be persuaded to change their shops into open as well as actual club-houses for the poor, in which not the only attraction shall be drinking. The drawings might shrink, but the publican must bear in mind that he is a social pariah only because he is a social parasite, and that the loss to his purse might be the price of his advancement to esteem. The wish is Utopian, of course, and the very hopelessness of realising it will give the advocate for municipal public-houses another argument for his cause.
This theme is hammered home later in a section on the personality and life of the typical Glaswegian working man, who is ‘not plump and genial like the Englishman, but a spare, reserved, sardonic person… [unwilling] to be seen with his wife in public’:
He could not, without offending a convention established among decent folk, take her into a public-house, and if he were to leave her outside he would hardly mend the matter. At a bar he might fall in with men he was ‘weel acquent wi,’ and might share in the round that was going; to withdraw then without returning the favour were the part of a sponge. And to say his wife waited for him on the pavement were worse than no excuse. The finger of scorn would rise and the sardonic chaff, for which he and his kind are famous, would play about him. ‘A merrit man, God help ‘um, a merrit man.’ And so his wife remains at home while he follows his own life. Partly the Magistrates are to blame. Their praiseworthy object has been to prevent the public-house from becoming what it is in England, the family sitting-room. They have made it an unlovely place, where the solitary person is not tempted to stay long after his liquor is over his throat. And women, except the poorest, do not frequent it. But the men by favouring the practice of ‘standing drinks round,’ have made it into their club, and so long as it is thus used, it works, together with overcrowded tenement houses, to make family life rather an impossible thing.
This little dip into one view on one part of the history of Scotland’s pubs has made us think we need to read more. Anthony Cooke’s A History Of Drinking: The Scottish Pub Since 1700looks like the obvious place to start.