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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.

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20th Century Pub pubs

The joy of Glasgow pubs in 1901

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’.

The Old Burnt Barns, Hamilton Street, Glasgow, in 1898, via Virtual Mitchell.

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 1700 looks like the obvious place to start.

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20th Century Pub london pubs

Notable pubs: The Festival Inn, Poplar, 1951

The first significant post-war pub was more than a pub – it was a prototype, an exhibit and, perhaps surprisingly, built to last.

We first noticed The Festival Inn on the corner of Chrisp Street Market in Poplar, East London, more than a decade ago. On one of our long walks through the infinitely fascinating neighbourhoods between Walthamstow, where we lived, and the City of London, we spotted its fading 1970s Truman’s livery and paused to take some pictures.

Only years later, having developed an interest in architecture and town planning, and gearing up to write 20th Century Pub, did we realise its true significance.

In the late 1940s, Britain was still recovering from the Blitz. Rationing was still in place for many consumer items and the supply of building materials was severely restricted. The supply of men to use them was short, too, with many still serving in the armed forces. The only new pubs being opened were prefabs – and even those were sometimes controversial.

Then along came the Festival of Britain. Scheduled for 1951, it was designed to offer a vision of a post-austerity Britain, to lift the national mood and to put a definitive full stop on World War II.

For the Festival, all kinds of exceptions were made to the rules and regulations around construction and the organisers were given dibs on material and manpower. As well as the main Festival site on the South Bank of the Thames – the one you’ll generally see in old newsreel footage – there were other exhibitions across London and around the UK.

Among the most ambitious, and most practical, was the ‘Live Exhibition of Architecture’ at Poplar which saw the construction of the largest part of an entire new housing estate, from scratch. In fact, the LCC had been planning to build a new estate there anyway, to be known as Lansbury; the Festival just sped things up and ensured the involvement of Top Men.

The architectural exhibition was conceived by architect Frederick Gibberd, who also designed the shopping centre at Chrisp Street around which the estate centred. 

Newsreel footage of the King and Queen visiting the building site at Lansbury.

Gibberd played an important role in designing post-war Britain, from the distinctive BISF council house – a pragmatic response to the housing shortage – to the utopian vision of Harlow new town.

Gibberd’s design for Chrisp Street included two pubs, one at either corner of the shopping centre. Only one would be open in time to form part of the architectural exhibition, however – the appropriately named Festival Inn.

Detail from a plan of the exhibition from the official programme. The Festival Inn is marked 15, at the centre, with the other 15, on the right edge, being The Festive Briton, AKA Callaghan’s.

If Lansbury was a dry run for Harlow, Crawley and Stevenage, The Festival Inn was the prototype for their pubs. It was to be owned and operated by East End brewers Truman’s and took on the licence of The Grundy Arms, a Victorian pub that survived the Blitz but was demolished as part of the clearance of the Chrisp Street area.

The Grundy Arms. SOURCE: London Metropolitan Archive/PubWiki.

The exterior of The Festival Inn was designed by Gibberd because it was integrated into a block that housed a shopping arcade. The interior was the work of Truman’s own in-house designer R.W. Stoddart. It took the form of a traditional pub with multiple bars but with the clean, straight-edged, minimal look typical of post-war buildings.

Kerbey Street elevation of the Festival Inn by Frederick Gibberd. SOURCE: Brewing Trade Review, January 1951.

Artist’s impression of the Festival Inn – also by Gibberd? SOURCE: Brewing Trade Review, January 1951.

The interior of the pub, as described in The Brewing Trade Review for January 1951:

The house has a large public bar with recess for dart playing. The walls will be panelled to dado height with oak panelling. The fireplace will be of brick and stone with a large mural above it depicting a scene from the nearby docks. At the rear end of the bar a small glass dome is formed to give additional light to the bar. The service counter will have an oak-panelled front with a plastic top. Above the counter there will be cold cathode lighting to give a warm honey-coloured light… There are two saloon bars linked by an opening next to the fireplaces.

There was also a mirror featuring Abram Games’ famous Festival of Britain logo.

The pub sign, situated a little way from the entrance, was to depict children dancing round the famous space age Skylon as if it were a maypole – a fantastic representation of the collision of national tradition and futurism represented by the Festival as a whole.

SOURCE: The Sphere, 2 June 1951, via The British Newspaper Archive.

That theme continued in the publicity surrounding the pub’s construction and when its first chimney was completed in December 1950, a ceremony was held. Beer was delivered by horse-drawn dray and ‘ale wives’ in traditional costume hoisted a garland and served beer to the chimney by way of a blessing. Covering this event, The Sphere for 30 December 1950 described The Festival Inn as ‘an example of modern planning on traditional lines’.

In 1951, The Festival really was a sign of hope. Pubs destroyed in the Blitz would be replaced; communities would be rebuilt. It was open and trading as a pub from 2 May that year, serving both Festival visitors and market traders.

The similarly named Festive Briton, on the opposite side of the market square, didn’t open until 1952 and, anyway, lacked the razzle-dazzle that made The Festival a headline grabber.

Just as Lansbury would inspire the look and layout of new towns around the UK, The Festival Inn would produce its own offspring.

The Crane, Basildon. SOURCE: A Monthly Bulletin, June 1954.

Over the years, Lansbury weathered down and got worn in, and The Festival became part of the furniture. The sign disappeared at some point and the delicate new-Elizabethan lettering on the outer wall was replaced with Truman’s livery that was somehow both more up-to-date and more old-fashioned.

The Festival Inn c.2008.

Amazingly, 70 years on, The Festival Inn is still there and still trading, albeit on pause for COVID-19. It’s also remarkably well preserved inside and features in CAMRA’s official listing of historic pub interiors. It’s also now Grade II listed by Historic England, too, so is protected, at least structurally, whatever else might happen to the Chrisp Street Market area in years to come.

Could Britain’s first modern post-war estate pub also end up being its last? It’s entirely possible.

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20th Century Pub pubs

Pubs in novels: seediness, glamour, fellowship

When musician and comedian Robin Allender asked on Twitter “What are your favourite descriptions of pubs in novels or poems?” it made us realise just how many of these we’ve collected over the years.

It also made us aware of the scattered nature of our notes, which is why we’ve decided to pull them together here.

Let’s start with Dickens. We’re both fans but Jess has read more, and rereads Our Mutual Friend most years. She’s got a theory that he invented Ye Olde Inn much in the same way he’s been said to have invented Christmas – but that’s a work in progress. In the meantime, here are a couple of pubs from his novels.

The bar of the Six Jolly Fellowship Porters was a bar to soften the human breast. The available space in it was not much larger than a hackney-coach; but no one could have wished the bar bigger, that space was so girt in by corpulent little casks, and by cordial-bottles radiant with fictitious grapes in bunches, and by lemons in nets, and by biscuits in baskets, and by the polite beer-pulls that made low bows when customers were served with beer, and by the cheese in a snug corner, and by the landlady’s own small table in a snugger corner near the fire, with the cloth everlastingly laid. This haven was divided from the rough world by a glass partition and a half-door, with a leaden sill upon it for the convenience of resting your liquor; but, over this half-door the bar’s snugness so gushed forth that, albeit customers drank there standing, in a dark and draughty passage where they were shouldered by other customers passing in and out, they always appeared to drink under an enchanting delusion that they were in the bar itself.

Our Mutual Friend, 1865, Chapter Six

I was such a child, and so little, that frequently when I went into the bar of a strange public-house for a glass of ale or porter, to moisten what I had had for dinner, they were afraid to give it to me. I remember one hot evening I went into the bar of a public-house, and said to the landlord: ‘What is your best – your very best – ale a glass?’ For it was a special occasion. I don’t know what. It may have been my birthday.

‘Twopence-halfpenny,’ says the landlord, ‘is the price of the Genuine Stunning ale.’

‘Then,’ says I, producing the money, ‘just draw me a glass of the Genuine Stunning, if you please, with a good head to it.’

The landlord looked at me in return over the bar, from head to foot, with a strange smile on his face; and instead of drawing the beer, looked round the screen and said something to his wife. She came out from behind it, with her work in her hand, and joined him in surveying me. Here we stand, all three, before me now. The landlord in his shirt-sleeves, leaning against the bar window-frame; his wife looking over the little half-door; and I, in some confusion, looking up at them from outside the partition.

David Copperfield, 1850, Chapter Eleven

Later on in the same decade, there’s a pub that’s so brilliantly described, and so important a marker in the development of the English pub, that we quoted it at length in our book 20th Century Pub. It’s from Thomas Hardy’s 1895 novel Jude the Obscure:

[The inn] had been entirely renovated and refitted in modern style since Jude’s residence here… Tinker Taylor drank off his glass and departed, saying it was too stylish a place now for him to feel at home in unless he was drunker than he had money to be just then… The bar had been gutted and newly arranged throughout, mahogany fixtures having taken the place of the old painted ones, while at the back of the standing-space there were stuffed sofa-benches. The room was divided into compartments in the approved manner, between which were screens of ground glass in mahogany framing, to prevent topers in one compartment being put to the blush by the recognitions of those in the next. On the inside of the counter two barmaids leant over the white-handled beer-engines, and the row of little silvered taps inside, dripping into a pewter trough… At the back of the barmaids rose bevel-edged mirrors, with glass shelves running along their front, on which stood precious liquids that Jude did not know the name of, in bottles of topaz, sapphire, ruby and amethyst.

Here’s where we should mention another theory of ours: that the prevalence and presentation of pubs in literature tells us all we need to know about their social status. In 19th century novels, they’re lawless but joyful; then, as the 20th century approaches, they become wretched hives of scum and villainy – where characters go to get further down on their luck, or to get up to no good. Respectable writers don’t depict pubs at all. Then, later in the 20th century, perhaps as a result of the democratising effects of World War II, they begin to creep into ordinary novels as the settings for ordinary interactions between ordinary people. They become socially acceptable, their ubiquity in reality finally reflected in writing. But, again, this theory is a work in progress.

Speaking of villainy, Joseph Conrad deserves a mention here for his depiction of the Silenus, a German beer hall in London, which we cited in Gambrinus Waltz, our monograph on this very subject:

Most of the thirty or so little tables covered by red cloths with a white design stood ranged at right angles to the deep brown wainscoting of the underground hall.  Bronze chandeliers with many globes depended from the low, slightly vaulted ceiling, and the fresco paintings ran flat and dull all round the walls without windows, representing scenes of the chase and of outdoor revelry in medieval costumes. Varlets in green jerkins brandished hunting knives and raised on high tankards of foaming beer… An upright semi-grand piano near the door, flanked by two palms in pots, executed suddenly all by itself a valse tune with aggressive virtuosity.  The din it raised was deafening.  When it ceased, as abruptly as it had started, the be-spectacled, dingy little man who faced Ossipon behind a heavy glass mug full of beer emitted calmly what had the sound of a general proposition.

The Secret Agent, 1902, Chapter 4

P.G. Wodehouse didn’t often depict pubs but the odd one does appear, as a place for his comic toffs to interact with inscrutable oafs. There is also, however, The Angler’s Rest. Here’s a sample:

In a mixed assemblage like the little group of serious thinkers which gathers nightly in the bar-parlour of the Anglers’ Rest it is hardly to be expected that there will invariably prevail an unbroken harmony. We are all men of spirit: and when men of spirit, with opinions of their own, get together, disputes are bound to arise. Frequently, therefore, even in this peaceful haven, you will hear voices raised, tables banged, and tenor Permit-me-to-inform-you-sir’s competing with baritone And-jolly- well-permit -me- to-inform-yous. I have known fists to be shaken and on one occasion the word ‘fat-head’ to be used.

‘The Man Who Gave up Smoking’, 1929

At this point, someone will mention Patrick Hamilton, whose novels of London life revolve around pubs. Honestly, we’ve only read one between us – Hangover Square, which Jess read in 2019, and found utterly bleak. We don’t have a quote at hand.

Post-war ‘angry young men’ novels (one of Ray’s specialist subjects) are a particularly rich seam of pub descriptions, often laden with class significance. In Room at the Top, for example, pubs are a grim reminder of what our socially mobile ‘hero’ is struggling to leave behind:

“Do you know, when I come into this pub, I don’t even have to order? They automatically issue a pint of wallop. And if I come in with someone else I point at them and nod twice if it’s bitter… Lovely, lovely ale… the mainstay of the industrial North, the bulwark of the British Constitution. If the Dufton pubs closed for just one day, there wouldn’t be a virgin or an unbroken window left by ten o’clock.”

Another John Braine novel, The Vodi, from 1959, has multiple pubs, all carefully described:

[He] didn’t like the Lord Relton very much. It was a fake-Tudor road-house with a huge car park; even its name was rather phoney, an attempt to identify it with the village of Relton to which, geographically at least, it belonged. But, unlike the Frumenty, unlike even the Ten Dancers or the Blue Lion at Silbridge, the Lord Relton belonged nowhere; it would have been just as much at home in any other place in England. It even smelled like nowhere; it had a smell he’d never encountered anywhere else, undoubtedly clean, and even antiseptic, but also disturbingly sensual, like the flesh of a woman who takes all the deodorants the advertisements recommend.

Keith Waterhouse’s Billy Liar, also from 1959, gives us this portrait of an interwar estate pub:

There was a windy, rubber-tiled hallway where the children squatted, eating potato crisps and waiting for their mothers. Two frosted-glass doors, embossed with the brewery trademark, led off it, one into the public bar and one into the saloon…

The men who say [in the public bar] were refugees from the warm terrace-end pubs that had been pulled down; they sat around drinking mild and calling to each other across the room as though nothing had changed… The few items in the New House that gave it anything like the feel of a pub — the dartboard, the cribbage markers, the scratched blind-box, and the pokerwork sign that said IYBMADIBYO, if you buy me a drink I’ll buy you one — were all part of the same portable world, as if they had been wheeled here in prams in the flight from the old things.

(We’ve just noticed that clue to WYBMADIITY.)

There are also pubs to be found in the wonderful world of murder mystery. In fact, this lesser-known whodunnit is set entirely in a pub:

Lounge bar it was called, but it was not a place of thick carpets and potted palms. The bar, the stools, and the table tops were of plain dark-brown wood. The tables had strong iron legs, and they were bolted to the composition floor. The pictures on the walls were girlie advertisements for champagne cider and similar drinks. The four beer pumps had blue-and-white handles. But the place was clean and the girlie pictures were attractive, and on the shelves behind the bar was a bright display of bottles which promised drinks for the most exacting connoisseur of spirits and liqueurs.

The Pub Crawler, Maurice Procter, 1956

In an edition of our monthly newsletter from a year or so ago, Jess observed that the Inspector Wexford novels of Ruth Rendell (a great writer, not just a great crime novelist) tell the story of the development of the English pub as they progress over the course of decades. This is from 1967’s A New Lease of Death:

The Olive and Dove is the best hostelry in Kingsmarkham that can properly be called an hotel. By a stretch of the imagination the Queen’s Head might be described as an inn, but the Dragon and the Crusader cannot claim to be more than pubs. The Olive, as locals invariably call it, is situated in the High Street at the Stowerton end of Kingsmarkham, facing the exquisite Georgian residence of Mr Missal, the Stowerton car dealer. It is partly Georgian itself, but it is a hybrid structure with lingering relics of Tudor and a wing that claims to be pre-Tudor. In every respect it conforms to what nice middle-class people mean when they talk about a ‘nice hotel. There are always three waiters, the chambermaids are staid and often elderly, the bath water is hot, the food as well as can be expected and the A.A. Guide has given it two stars.

There are hundreds more pubs in hundreds more novel – these are just some that seem especially vivid or important to us. Are there any real corkers you think we’ve missed? If so, comment below.

In the meantime, Robin also asked about poems, so we’ll finish with a line from Adrian Henri’s ‘Liverpool Poems’ published in The Mersey Sound in 1967:

Note for a definition of optimism:
A man trying the door of Yates Wine Lodge
At quarter past four in the afternoon.

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20th Century Pub pubs

One of the 4,000: The Deerstalker, Bestwood

In the post-war period, up until the 1960s, around 4,000 brand new pubs were built. Among them was The Deerstalker on Nottingham’s Bestwood Park Estate.

The name is a clue to the brewery which built it – Mitchells & Butlers, whose trademark was the ‘Deers Leap’.

The leaping deer trademark.

We came across the pictures below in the January-February 1957 edition of the M&B in-house magazine, also called The Deerstalker:

“The Deerstalker is one of a number of new houses that the company are opening on new housing estates all over the Midlands. It may not be the largest or most magnificent of our houses, but, as you will see from our illustrations, its snappy contemporary decor will provide a cheery local for those inhabitants of the Bestwood Park Estate who are sufficiently enlightened to appreciate the fact that they will be better off with an M&B.”

The Deerstalker, January-February 1957, pp.10-11
A large, plain pub in brick.
The exterior of The Deerstalker

This pub was a long time in gestation, a licence being first applied for in 1950. That application was withdrawn when it became clear that post-war building restrictions would make construction impossible for some years to come. (Nottingham Evening Post, 31 March 1950; Nottingham Journal, 1 April 1950.) It seems to have been opened in around 1956.

Let’s have a look at that “snappy decor”.

A bar and tables.
We guess you’d call this the public bar?
A different bar with more comfortable chairs.
And this is, we suppose, the saloon.
A view of the same bar with typically 1950s wallpaper.
Same again, from a different angle.

Apart from the general sense of pristine mid-century modernity, there are a few things that catch the eye.

Taken from Formica: a modern plastic, 1938.

The clocks with their brushed metal faces. Those, we guess, formica-topped tables. And that absolutely fantastic wallpaper in the saloon. Here’s a sample, perspective corrected and tinted a vaguely appropriate colour for the period.

It looks as if was designed specifically with pubs and bars in mind, perhaps even commissioned by M&B for their own houses.

What happened next? Sigh. We’ve told this sad story so many times now. In 1957, a modern pub, clean and fresh, tastefully decorated in the latest style; by the early 1980s, as recounted by former landlady Caron Wiles at closedpubs.co.uk:

“My husband Adrian and myself were the landlord and landlady at this pub in the early 80’s. There was entertainment 7 nights per week and we reduced it to 6 nights. Singers, comedians and discos all performed there. It was very busy and we made some good friends. We had a very loyal staff who remained with us throughout our tenure. There were also some very frightening occasions when the customers rioted and smashed tables & chairs and all the optics and bottles on the back of the bar, all the staff had to squeeze into the tiny office for safety until the police arrived to calm things down.”

It was renamed The Sportsman in 1993 and ceased trading as a pub at some point. It is now a convenience store but still recognisable.

SOURCE: Google Maps/Street View.