Categories
20th Century Pub beer in fiction / tv london pubs

Lose Bunny Lake, find a pub

The 1965 psychological thriller Bunny Lake is Missing was set in London and, of course, features a scene set in a pub – The Warrington Hotel, Maida Vale.

Bunny Lake was a flop on its original release, and an obscurity for decades. Now, like many lesser-known films of the period, it’s been beautifully restored and released on Blu-ray.

That gives us an opportunity not only to see the pub as it looked almost 60 years ago but also to freeze the frame, zoom and enhance, to see what details we can pick up.

First, a disclaimer: this is a real pub, not a studio set – there are enough clues to be sure of that. But, of course, it is filled with studio extras, not real drinkers, or so we assume.

That means some of what we see is sort of real, and some sort of isn’t – although the film is intended to feel real rather than presenting that romantic fantasy version of London so often seen in American productions.

In fact, Laurence Olivier, as Superintendent Newhouse, makes that point very well, in dialogue written by novelists Penelope Mortimer and John Mortimer:

“Ever been in a pub before? Here it is, the heart of Merrie Olde England. Complete with dirty glasses, watery beer, draughts under the doors, and a 23-inch television.”

Oh, yes – the television. A novelty in pubs in the 1950s, by 1965, it’s a fixture – almost the centrepiece, in fact, front and centre above the bar. It shows the news first, then a performance by The Zombies. Middle-aged and elderly drinkers seem transfixed by it.

A pub television.

Never mind the TV, you’re probably thinking – what about those bottles beneath it.

In this shot, and others, we’ve got:

  • Babycham
  • Courage Brown Ale
  • Worthington Pale Ale
  • Guinness
  • and some others we don’t recognise, but you might

There’s also some very prominent point-of-sale material for SKOL lager.

Bottled beers

What about draught beer? There’s a very obvious Courage Tavern Keg Bitter font in several shots, a draught Guinness font, and a single lonely cask ale pump-clip advertising Flowers.

Tavern Keg Bitter
Guinness
Flowers

That last one is a bit confusing because Flowers was a Whitbread brand by 1961 and this pub was definitely a Barclays (Courage) pub. Perhaps this is a bit of set dressing by a production designer who – can you believe it? – didn’t especially care about brewery ownership.

There’s also some background detail for students of pub grub to enjoy. Jars of pickles. Boiled eggs. Pies. Miserable sandwiches. And a full but unconvincing steak, seafood and oyster menu.

Pickles
Sandwiches
Full dining menu

What’s also clear is that this was a handsome building. Green and White’s The Evening Standard Guide to London Pubs from 1973 says:

A dominant building at the north end of Warrington Crescent… the Warrington is a glowing example of faded splendour, possibly due to the fact that it has never really been taken up by the Maida Vale elite. It has one of the most imposing pub entrances in London, with its own ornate lamp-standards and a coy lady holding a torch in a niche on your right as you go in. Fascinating interior with some art nouveau stained glass, only slightly marred by some more recent murals, a salmon-pink ceiling hung with chandeliers, and a crescent-shaped bar with a brass footrail. Probably the best example of an Edwardian pub in London.

The exterior of the Warrington
Painted sign on the door: LOUNGE
Art Nouveau windows

Apparently, it’s still worth a visit. Next time we’re in London, plagues and regulations permitting, we’ll try to pop in for a sad sandwich and a bottle of brown ale.

Categories
20th Century Pub london

A Docklands pub in danger, 1987

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.

Detail from the 1976 Dockland Strategic Plan. SOURCE: A London Inheritance.

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.

SOURCE: ITV/BritBox.
SOURCE: ITV/BritBox.

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!

SOURCE: ITV/BritBox.

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.

Categories
20th Century Pub london

The Battle for the Boot, 1914-15

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?

While browsing the wonderful British Newspaper Archive trying to find out more about the Middlesex magistrates we came across an interesting story about The Boot from the Hendon & Finchley Times for Friday 2 July 1915.

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.

The Boot c.1910
The Boot in 1911. SOURCE: Colleen/PubWiki; our own image clean up.

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 Boot in 1900
SOURCE: Possibly Barnet Archives – the subtle watermark may offer a clue.

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, the Chairman 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.

Categories
20th Century Pub bristol pubs

20th Century pubs in 21st Century Bristol

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.

The excellent Historic England publication The Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Public House in Bristol by Rebecca Preston and Fiona Fisher, from 2015, provides a helpful summary of how things played out here:

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.

A Victorian-Edwardian pub.
The Cambridge Arms, Redland, by Edward Gabriel, 1900.

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. The Cambridge 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.

Categories
20th Century Pub pubs

When did ladies’ toilets in pubs become a thing?

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.

SOURCE: Victorian Pubs, Mark Girouard, 1975.

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.

At this point, we paused to take stock and think about toilets more generally. (How did we end up like this?) Fortunately, Historic England provides a pocket history of the ‘public convenience’ online:

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:

SOURCE: The Renaissance of the English Pub, Basil Oliver, 1947.

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.