Bits we underlined in ‘They’re Open!’, 1950

Every time we think we’ve at least heard of every substantial book about beer or pubs, a new-to-us specimen pops up. This weekend, we came across They’re Open! by Ronald Wilkinson and Roger Frisby, with illustrations by Neville Main, from 1950.

It’s fluff, real­ly – the kind of thing the chaps at the golf club would buy for anoth­er chap known to like the odd pint of bit­ter on the occa­sion of his birth­day. Still, it’s a reveal­ing time cap­sule, as throw­aways often are.

The gim­mick, as with T.E.B. Clarke’s What’s Yours? from 12 years ear­li­er, is that the book claims to be a man­u­al for those keen to learn the mys­te­ri­ous ways of the pub:

The stu­dent should on no account embark upon the the­o­ry of Seri­ous Drink­ing with­out first paus­ing to con­sid­er cer­tain fun­da­men­tal con­cepts and gen­er­al prin­ci­ples… It should be clear­ly under­stood from the out­set that the sub­ject must not be approached in a light or friv­o­lous vein…

Anoth­er sec­tion from the intro­duc­tion is prob­a­bly meant to be a joke but it’s hard to tell from this side of the real ale rev­o­lu­tion, when we’re used to this kind of thing being uttered in earnest:

It may strike the scep­tic as odd that the word ‘seri­ous’ is applied in this con­text. How­ev­er, the word is not cho­sen at ran­dom. It is, in fact, the key­stone of the whole arch of Alco­hol­o­gy. For the Seri­ous Drinker drinks not to be socia­ble; nei­ther does he drink to drown his sor­rows, nor for want of any­thing bet­ter to do. Above all, it can­not be too strong­ly impressed upon the stu­dent that drunk­en­ness in any shape or form must nev­er be the aim, nor indeed must it be the con­comi­tant of Seri­ous Drink­ing. The Seri­ous Drinker drinks on a ratio­nal basis. He drinks for no oth­er rea­son that that he likes drink­ing. One would nev­er ask a stamp-col­lec­tor why he is seri­ous about col­lect­ing stamps…

This intro­duc­to­ry sec­tion also sets out the book’s stall on the issue of women and beer:

In all the authors’ expe­ri­ence, they have nev­er encoun­tered a woman who held forth even the remotest promise of suc­cess­ful devel­op­ment into a Seri­ous Drinker. Her very make-up pre­vents it. Charm­ing, lov­able, fas­ci­nat­ing as women may seem, all attempts on their parts to become Seri­ous Drinkers have so far been but emp­ty threats.

(That’s me told. – Jess.)

Bottled beer.

There’s dis­ap­point­ing­ly lit­tle about beer in the book, of course, beyond a warn­ing against for­eign beer, where for­eign has the broad­est pos­si­ble def­i­n­i­tion: “For the Seri­ous Drinker is a drinker of beer, and beer is only to be found in Eng­land.”

There is a chap­ter on what to wear in the pub: thick-soled shoes to raise you above the saw­dust, with beer-coloured uppers to con­ceal stains; and drink­ing trousers with expand­ing waist­line and a deep left-hand pock­et for change.

The bit that real­ly grabbed our atten­tion, with 20th Cen­tu­ry Pub still ring­ing in our brains, is an attempt to clas­si­fy dif­fer­ent types of pub:

The Road­house… Con­struc­tion in con­crete… Design fre­quent­ly of the pseu­do-Tudor or bogus-rus­tic…

The Amer­i­can or Cock­tail bar… Neon signs… Stools… A pletho­ra of chromi­um… Pre­pon­der­ance of women… It is dif­fi­cult to find words ade­quate to con­demn this type of abom­i­na­tion…

The Chain House… This is a large estab­lish­ment usu­al­ly of brick which sports a car-park. It is by far the least offen­sive of the non-seri­ous types of drink­ing estab­lish­ments, and at a pinch it is per­fect­ly cor­rect for the Drinker to enter it…

The Pub or Local… The is the ide­al locus biben­di for the Seri­ous Drinker. Now, the true pub is not always easy to recog­nise… it will in all prob­a­bil­i­ty be tucked away in some side-street, mews or alley…

There are then pages and pages on the sub­ject of pub doors  – the var­i­ous types, their actions, how to oper­ate their han­dles  – and then a whole lot more on where to sit once you’re inside for opti­mum effi­cien­cy. There’s a sec­tion on pos­ture, one on how to grip your glass, and on how to chat up bar­maids. All of this is more or less tedious.

A crowd in a pub.
Detail from the end­pa­per of the book.

Things pick up again with an attempt to cat­e­gorise types of drinker:

The Seri­ous Drinker…

The Soli­tary or Intro­spec­tive Drinker… unshaven… uneth­i­cal ties…

Bar­maid-Chaffing Drinker… faint­ly furtive, con­fi­den­tial­ly bom­bas­tic tone…

The Qua­si-seri­ous or Com­pet­i­tive Drinker…

The Cryp­to-seri­ous or Mis­cel­la­neous Group… This group includes inter alia, the dart-play­ers, the shove-half­pen­ny boys, the domi­no kings, the crib­bage enthu­si­asts, the bar-bil­liards men and the pin-table fiends…

The Cel­e­bra­to­ry of Extro­spec­tive Drinker… a note­wor­thy haz­ard to the Seri­ous Drinker…

The Social or Gre­gar­i­ous Drinker…

The Med­i­c­i­nal or Ther­a­peu­tic Drinker… On no account should he be engaged in con­ver­sa­tion, because this inevitably con­sists of an inter­minable rep­e­ti­tion of his mor­bid ail­ments, past and present…

The Casu­al or Inter­mit­tent Drinker… He looks at the clock between gulps and speaks in an anx­ious tone of voice…

All in all, this is a minor work, per­haps of great­est use to those with an inter­est in atti­tudes to women in pubs.

Beer delivery vans in Bristol between the wars

In 1929 neither estate had a pub or off-licence, and tenants had to resort to vans selling alcoholic drink which plied the area.”

That intrigu­ing line appears in a paper by Madge Dress­er called ‘Hous­ing pol­i­cy in Bris­tol, 1919–30’, col­lect­ed in Coun­cil­lors and ten­ants: local author­i­ty hous­ing in Eng­lish cities, 1919–1939. The estates Dr Dress­er refers to are Hor­field and Sea Mills.

As we dis­cov­ered research­ing 20th Cen­tu­ry Pub, it’s almost impos­si­ble to take a seri­ous inter­est in the devel­op­ment of the pub­lic house with­out also get­ting into hous­ing and social pol­i­cy.

Hous­ing estates – a new idea as the 19th cen­tu­ry turned into the 20th, even if they’re now tak­en for grant­ed – were gen­er­al­ly dry by default until the 1920s. What was the point of mov­ing peo­ple out of slums if the slum behav­iour (as it was viewed) car­ried on as before?

Estates, and espe­cial­ly those with ‘gar­den city’ pre­ten­sions, were about fresh air, healthy pur­suits, and the com­fort of the home. If peo­ple need­ed to socialise, there were church­es, and maybe sports clubs.

But fan­cy­ing a pint with your mates every now and then isn’t weird – it’s quite nor­mal. As a result, many peo­ple liv­ing on estates lob­bied for the pro­vi­sion of social clubs and pubs, but Bristol’s estates were with­out pubs until the 1930s.

What about those booze deliv­ery wag­ons? Well, a 1929 news sto­ry cov­er­ing the appli­ca­tion for an off-licence by a Sea Mills shop­keep­er Thomas Prestidge (West­ern Dai­ly Press, 5 March) pro­vides a bit more detail:

There was a large num­ber of res­i­dents on the Sea Mills Estate who had asked Mr Prestidge to make the appli­ca­tion. The near­est licensed house was the Swan in Stoke Lane, over a mile away, and in the oth­er direc­tion the near­est place was a mile and half away. At present the wants of the inhab­i­tants were sup­plied by three or four peo­ple who came from var­i­ous dis­tricts in and out of Bris­tol and deliv­ered to res­i­dents on the estate in dozen and half-dozen bot­tles.

So, to be clear, not only were there no pubs – there was nowhere to buy any alco­holic drink at all.

Objec­tions to this appli­ca­tion from local doc­tors and reli­gious types argued that sup­ply by deliv­ery was per­fect­ly ade­quate and that peo­ple who had moved to Sea Mills to get away from ‘hub­bub’ would pre­fer drink­ing to hap­pen, if it had to hap­pen at all, behind closed doors. Nonethe­less, the licence was grant­ed on a pro­vi­sion­al basis.

Sea Mills did even­tu­al­ly get a pub, and a very grand one: the Progress Inn (pic­tured above). It opened in 1936, but closed in 2011, and was then con­vert­ed into a nurs­ery.

That means if you live at Sea Mills and fan­cy a beer, deliv­ery trucks, from super­mar­kets these days, might once again be the best option.

Progress? What progress?

This hap­pens to be Sea Mills’ cen­te­nary year and the estate is the sub­ject of a local her­itage project, Sea Mills 100. We’ll be watch­ing with inter­est for infor­ma­tion on the estate’s licenc­ing bat­tles.

News Pubs and Old Favourites #1: The Forester, Ealing

We spent the gap between Christmas and New Year in West London, on the hunt for Proper Pubs. Four stood out and we’re going to give each one its own post.

Jess first vis­it­ed the Forester in North­fields, Eal­ing, in 2016, dur­ing research for 20th Cen­tu­ry Pub, and has been try­ing to get Ray there ever since. It’s of aca­d­e­m­ic inter­est, being built in 1909 as an ear­ly Improved Pub to a design by Now­ell-Parr, and retain­ing a mul­ti-room lay­out with lots of peri­od details.

It also hap­pens to be a sub­ur­ban back­street cor­ner pub – our cur­rent favourite thing. As we approached, it peeked into view between the cor­ner shops and ter­raced hous­es, like a steam­punk cruise ship at berth.

It’s a Fuller’s pub, too, which means touch­es of the cor­po­rate, but not to an oppres­sive degree. It helps that the light is kept low and (not to everyone’s taste, we know) the music loud, so every table feels like its own warm bub­ble.

The Forester, Ealing -- interior.

The locals seemed well-to-do with­out being posh, sink­ing beer and gin, and throw­ing out the odd rau­cous joke: “Bloody hell! When you bent over then, Steve… Either you’re wear­ing a black thong or you for­got to wipe your arse.”

They ignored par­ties of out­siders – a group of what we took for pro­fes­sion­al foot­ballers on tour, all design­er shirts and hair prod­uct; a trio of twen­tysome­things, appar­ent­ly from the mid­dle east, when-in-Rome-ing with pints of Guin­ness – with­out appar­ent mal­ice.

The beer was excel­lent, too – Fuller’s as Fuller’s should be served, gleam­ing and bril­liant beneath clean arc­tic foam. The ESB in par­tic­u­lar was hard to resist, demand­ing to be treat­ed like a ses­sion beer, which maybe it is at Christ­mas.

We made time to vis­it twice dur­ing a four-night trip, which should tell you some­thing. You might find it worth a detour next time you’re in Lon­don.

News, Nuggets & Longreads 1 December 2018: Stats, Social Clubs, Suburban Pubs

Here are all the blog posts, articles and news stories around beer and pubs that grabbed our attention in the past week, from Norway, Maine, to Canley.

First, some­thing with a bit of weight behind it: UK government’s Office for Nation­al Sta­tis­tics (ONS) has pub­lished a report on the health of the pub mar­ket. The over­all con­clu­sion it reach­es is that, yes, lots of pubs have closed in the past 20 years, but “the total turnover of pubs and bars has held up, remain­ing flat since 2008, once infla­tion is tak­en into account”.

There’s also an inter­ac­tive tool which will give you a read­out for your town or city, e.g.

ONS chart on Bristol pubs -- down from 375 to 285 since 2001.

The report sug­gests increas­ing employ­ment in the pub trade might be down to the growth in food ser­vice, and a trend towards big­ger rather than small­er pubs. (But we won­der if the intro­duc­tion of RTI in 2013 might also be an influ­ence, effec­tive­ly end­ing  infor­mal (unre­port­ed) employ­ment in most sec­tors.)


Children's party at a social club.

His­to­ri­an of clubs Ruth Cher­ring­ton has writ­ten about her mem­o­ries of play­ing bin­go with her par­ents at the Can­ley Social Club and Insti­tute in Coven­try, and what it all meant:

Our local club was con­ve­nient­ly sit­u­at­ed just across the street from our house on a post­war coun­cil estate. Mum told us that Dad was thrilled to bits when plans for the clubs were drawn up in the late 1940s. Hav­ing a local place to drink and play games like bil­liards and crib­bage over a pint or two meant he would no longer have to trek to his old haunts on the oth­er side of town. Like many local men on the estate, he threw him­self into set­ting up the new club on the land allo­cat­ed by the Cor­po­ra­tion specif­i­cal­ly for that pur­pose. The club opened in a wood­en hut in 1948 and affil­i­at­ed to the Club and Insti­tute Union in 1950.

(PDF, unfor­tu­nate­ly.)


Norway, Maine, brewpub.

At Beer­vana Jeff Alworth has tak­en a moment to breathe and reflect on how ordi­nary it has become to find decent and inter­est­ing beer in unlike­ly places:

Human expe­ri­ence requires con­stant recal­i­bra­tion, and mine occurred about halfway through my dry-hopped pil­sner, Imper­son­ator. I was focused on the over­ly Amer­i­can hop char­ac­ter and lack of assertive malt fla­vor when it hit me: I am in a brew­pub in Nor­way, Maine. My crit­i­cal appa­ra­tus had been set to “world stan­dards.” I quick­ly recal­i­brat­ed to “18-month-old brew­pub in rur­al Maine,” and all of a sud­den it was look­ing mighty impres­sive. There were no flaws in that or any beers we tried, and part of my com­plaint was, admit­ted­ly, pref­er­ence (I don’t want to taste IPA in my pil­sner).


Debit card illustration.

We wrote about cashless/cardless pubs and bars ear­li­er this week, and it’s a top­ic gen­er­al­ly in the air. David Hold­en at Yes! Ale reports the real­i­ty on the ground where con­sumers are expect­ed to car­ry both cash and cards if they expect to vis­it more than one venue in the course of an evening:

Yes, I had to go back out in the wind and rain but at least I am in a posi­tion to get cash out at six o’clock in the evening. I don’t have to go into an open branch to get cash. In Koelschip Yard I was in the posi­tion to open my wal­let and draw a card out to make a pay­ment. There are many rea­sons why not every­one can do this. These rea­sons may be why one poten­tial cus­tomer has to “give this one a miss” or ask their mate “Do you mind get­ting the round in here?”.


Hofmeister lager.

And here’s anoth­er real­i­ty check, from Paul ‘no rela­tion’ Bai­ley: beers that you can’t actu­al­ly buy, even if you real­ly, real­ly want to, might as well not exist. His expe­ri­ence was with the award-win­ning revived ver­sion of Hofmeis­ter.


Vintage illustration: McSorleys

We were sur­prised to come across some­one this week who didn’t know Joseph Mitchell’s bril­liant 1940 essay on New York City tav­ern McSorley’s, AKA ‘The Old House at Home’. So now, in what might be a one-off, or could become a reg­u­lar fea­ture, wel­come to Clas­sics Cor­ner:

It is equipped with elec­tric­i­ty, but the bar is stub­born­ly illu­mi­nat­ed with a pair of gas lamps, which flick­er fit­ful­ly and throw shad­ows on the low, cob­web­by ceil­ing each time some­one opens the street door. There is no cash reg­is­ter. Coins are dropped in soup bowls—one for nick­els, one for dimes, one for quar­ters, and one for halves—and bills are kept in a rose­wood cash­box. It is a drowsy place; the bar­tenders nev­er make a need­less move, the cus­tomers nurse their mugs of ale, and the three clocks on the walls have not been in agree­ment for many years.


And how can we not fin­ish with Hilary Man­tel doing her ver­sion of 20th Cen­tu­ry Pub?

Want more read­ing? See Alan.

Writing About Pubs

Last night we won a gold tankard from the British Guild of Beer Writers for writing about pubs.

Though we’ve yet to receive the post-mortem notes we assume this was pri­mar­i­ly for 20th Cen­tu­ry Pub which, in case you haven’t heard, is a 230-page run through how pubs have changed in the past cen­tu­ry or so.

Oscars™-style, we’d like take this oppor­tu­ni­ty to thank Jo Cope­stick and Tim Webb for tak­ing a punt on pub­lish­ing it, and Dale Tom­lin­son for his excel­lent work on the design.

We worked hard on it and would love peo­ple to read it. Please buy a copy, or ask your local library to get it in, or bor­row it from a mate, or dip into the copy on the shelf at the Drap­ers Arms. There’s even an extract here you can read for free.

As well as the book, though, we also sub­mit­ted:

We know that when this new cat­e­go­ry was announced there was some con­cern that, being spon­sored by the pro-pub cam­paign Long Live the Local, it might reward only cheer­ful­ly uncrit­i­cal writ­ing about pubs but we think our win proves that fear unfound­ed.

Now, per­haps for 2019, we’ll pull the bal­ance back from pubs to beer a bit.

And maybe, just maybe, we’ll have anoth­er think about that book on the his­to­ry of lager in Britain we’ve been want­i­ng to write for a few years. A tril­o­gy sounds quite good right now.