Further Reading #2: RIBA Wonderland

Researching 20th Century Pub we spent time in some great libraries and archives with rich collections of pub- and beer-related material. This is the second in a series of blog posts intended to highlight great resources you can go and look up yourself.

We had assumed that the library of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) might be difficult to get into but, no, it’s a doddle. You just turn up at the gorgeous building on Portland Place, London W1, and sign yourself in with the requirement to show some sort of photo ID the only hurdle to jump.

The library itself is small but tranquil with plenty of quiet bays, balconies and corners to work in. There are lots of desks and plenty of power points, and the library has a liberal policy with regard to the use of cameras and smartphones, as long as you obey the usual rules of copyright and redistribution. (Which, of course, we have slightly bent by using some of the images below, but only at low-res, mostly grainy and out of focus at that, and purely by way of commentary on the library itself.)

Open Access

There’s a huge amount of stuff relevant to the interests of pub geeks available on open access before you even start bothering the stacks. There’s a comprehensive collection of books on pub architecture, for example, including standard works by people such as Ben Davis and Mark Girouard as well as more niche publications. Lynn Pearson’s 1989 book The Northumbrian Pub: an architectural history was nice to stumble across, for example.

There are also bound volumes of various architecture and building magazines dating back to the Victorian period that you are free to take from the shelf and browse. Some are indexed better than others and references to pubs in particular can be hard to track down, listed as they might be under public houses, taverns, inns, pubs, drinking establishments, hotels depending on the customs of each year and the prejudices of the indexer.

We found lots to enjoy in particular in The Architect and Building News, The Architects’ JournalThe Brick Builder and Building. Pubs didn’t come up all that often beyond bouts of bickering on the letters pages but when they did it tended to be in substantial features with lots of pictures and plans. The issue of ABN for 23 October 1936, for example, had a big, lavishly illustrated feature on the Myllet Arms at Perivale, with credits for every detail of the decor and building: “Carving to Sign: Gertrude Hermes”. The AJ for 24 November 1938 had an epic article by the architect of the Myllet Arms, E.B. Musman, called ‘Public Houses: Design and Construction’, with descriptions, maps and photographs of tons of pubs, and 1930s Art Deco examples in particular.

Hand-drawn plan.
A diagram from Musman’s 1938 article.

Another article of particular note — do go and look it up if you get chance — is ‘The Post-War Pub’ from the Architects’ Journal Information Library for 20 May 1964. It is based on a survey of post-war pubs commissioned by the Brewers’ Society and led by architect Geoffrey Salmon who we assume also wrote the article. If you’re interested, as we are, in estate pubs, flat-roofed pubs, booze bunkers, or whatever else you want to call them, this is the motherlode, crammed with acute observations, photographs and statistics — this is where we found the estimate of the number of pubs built in the post-war period cited in 20th Century Pub.

Title page: The Post-War Pub.

At this point we should mention the staff who could not have been more helpful on our multiple visits. At one point, having explained what we were researching, one of the librarians got a bit animated trying to recall some nugget of information. He turned up at the desk where we were working half an hour later with an early 20th century article about pubs that was confusingly indexed anywhere but that he remembered having come across years before. Now that’s above and beyond.

Title page: The Modern Public House.

Into the Stacks

There’s also a huge amount of material kept under lock and key but no less accessible for that. As it’s a small, fairly quiet library nothing takes long to emerge once a slip has been submitted — ten minutes, perhaps? It was through this route that we were finally able to get our hands on Basil Oliver’s 1934 book The Modern Public House. As it happened it contained most of the same material as his later must-read The Renaissance of the English Public House but it was good to verify that with our own eyes, and also to read the short introduction by the great Imperial architect and occasional pub designer Edwin Lutyens:

The Public House represents what should be the hub of our wheel of Life, essential to our material need and second only to the Church that stands and represents our spiritual necessity. The Church is to the spirit as the Inn is to the flesh and, if good and well designed, they baulk the Devil himself.

Of less interest, perhaps, are the various government publications on planning, housing and public health, most of which mention pubs only in passing. Still, we found them useful, in lieu of easy to access online versions. (Which, seriously, there ought to be.) The same might be said for obscure architectural guidebooks such as Hugh Casson’s New Sights of London from 1938 which has notes on a few pubs and includes this particularly lovely illustration:

The Comet, Hatfield, as illustrated in 1938.

So, there you have it: perhaps our favourite library of all of those we explored in the last year or two. You can search the catalogue online — try ‘pubs’ for starters and if the mile-long list of results doesn’t give you the urge to visit then nothing will.

How to Buy Signed Books for Christmas

Right, let’s not beat about the bush: you’ve got assorted awkward family members to buy gifts for and we’ve got (a) a loaded pen; (b) a stack of books. Let’s do business.

If you want a signed copy of our latest, 20th Century Pub, or of Brew Britannia, email us as soon as possible at contact@boakandbailey.com telling us:

  • who you want it dedicated to;
  • any special message you’d like (otherwise, we’ll exercise our wits); and
  • where you’d like it posted.

In return, we’ll let you know where to transfer money. The prices have settled, after a bit of trial and error as follows:

  • 20th Century Pub — £15 including UK postage and packing.
  • Brew Britannia (2017 corrected edition, smaller format, no appendices) — £10 inc. UK P&P.
  • Set of three badges — £3 inc. UK P&P, or £2 when purchased with either book.

We only have a limited supply of each and parcels need to be in the post before 20 December if they’re to arrive in time for Christmas Day, so don’t put it off. (Which is to say, we’d like to get all this out of the way before the Post Office turns into something off Dawn of the Dead.)

Spoonsgate

Wetherspoon's engraved glass "Est 1979".

We’re not quite sure why restaurant critic Marina O’Loughlin chose to review a branch of Wetherspoon in her new column for the Sunday Times but she did, and didn’t like it.

We haven’t been able to read the column because it’s behind a paywall so won’t comment on it directly except to say that from the generous quotes the Morning Advertiser has permitted itself here it does seem that she was offering a genuine reaction to the quality of the food. If you’re skint, one of those quotations suggests, the chippy is cheaper and better — a sound argument and surely one that (as intended) goes someway to mitigating accusations of pure snobbery.

But, still, this delicate rebuttal by the New Statesman’s Stephen Bush for the i newspaper chimed with us, bringing back memories of our teens and early twenties:

I’m not going to pretend that I adore the food at Wetherspoons, but it has, nonetheless, been responsible for some of the best meals of my life. When I was working in a shop and gradually tunnelling out from under my overdraft, a monthly treat for me and the rest of the staff was a trip outside of the store’s catchment area (where we could be certain of not bumping into any of the clientele) to have dinner at Spoons… It wasn’t good, but it was affordable, we could sit down without being hassled to move on and, crucially, you pay separately and upfront, with no anxiety about who was paying for what.

This got us thinking about how often Wetherspoon pubs are (to paraphrase a favourite line of the Pub Curmudgeon’s) distress destinations — somewhere you end up out of convenience, as a compromise or because, yes, you’re skint.

We often have a great time in Spoons but that’s usually because it’s so quick, easy and cheap (per Stephen Bush) it takes all the stress out of deciding where to go so you can concentrate on having fun with friends and family. You can walk in with a party of eight, including a teetotaller, a vegetarian, a conservative bitter drinker and a craft beer geek (actual case study) and be sure that everyone will have a reasonably good time, and that nobody will come away feeling ripped off.

The carpet at the Imperial, Exeter.

But, at the same time, any one of those people, if it was entirely their choice and money was no object, would probably choose somewhere else.

Of course it’s not always a compromise. The lure of interesting festival beers makes Spoons the go-to place at certain times of year; some of the buildings are beautiful, important and/or atmospheric; and (controversial opinion klaxon) we’ve yet to have better chicken wings than theirs, and — believe us — not for want of trying.

More generally it’s fascinating how much coverage Spoons gets in the mainstream press, and how many clicks those articles seem to generate. It is very close to a universal British experience these days, after all, and heavy with cultural symbolism in the age of Brexit.

There’s a full chapter on Wetherspoon’s in our new book20th Century Pub, and as a result (disclosure) it’s apparently reviewed or at least mentioned in the upcoming edition of Wetherspoon News. We’ll be acquiring a copy or two of the magazine for posterity.

An Extraordinary Gentleman: the Brand New Victorian Pubs of Roddy Gradidge

MAIN IMAGE: The Markham Arms in 1976 © Klaus Hiltscher, used with permission.

The architect and interior designer Roderick ‘Roddy’ Gradidge was both a conservative and a wannabe Teddy Boy proto-punk. Though he worked on all kinds of buildings, and wrote several books, he is usually described in short-form as one thing: a pub designer.

We’ve put together this profile based on the newspaper archives we were able to access, online sources, and the books in the ever-expanding Arthur Millard Memorial Library (our box room). As such, consider it a work in progress: when we get chance, for example, we’ll visit the RIBA library and see if we can come up with a more comprehensive list of his projects. Here’s what we know for now.

John Roderick Warlow Gradidge was born in Norfolk in 1929 but grew up in India where his father served in the colonial army. Young Roderick came back to England in 1943 to attend Stowe under the headmastership of J.F. Roxburgh. Writing in the aftermath of Gradidge’s death the writer A.N. Wilson, a friend, suggested that Roxburgh was a key influence on Gradidge’s character:

When one thinks of the flamboyant gallery of talent fostered by that schoolmaster – Peregrine Worsthorne, Antony Quinton, George Melly, – it is hard not to feel some connection.

Flamboyant is certainly the right word: Gradidge, who everyone describes as ‘huge’ or ‘massive’, started wearing an earring in 1955 and ‘longed to be a Teddy boy’, donning the uniform drape jacket, sideburns, tight trousers and suede brothel-creepers and devoting himself to rock’n’roll.

Continue reading “An Extraordinary Gentleman: the Brand New Victorian Pubs of Roddy Gradidge”

Us on Estate Pubs

Detail from an unused book cover: a pub in black-and-white.

When we started work on 20th Century Pub a few years ago the intention was to write a 20,000 word e-book about post-war pubs in particular. We even got as far as mocking up a cover, above.

The book we eventually wrote takes a much wider view but has a substantial chapter on ‘mod pubs’ and by way of a supplement, we’ve written two original pieces on the same topic.

The first is in the latest edition of The Modernist subtitled ‘Gone’ which launched late last week and is available can be ordered from their website or picked up in specialist design bookshops such as Magma in Manchester’s Northern Quarter. We gather it’s a very small print-run, though, so if you want a copy, get a bend on. (We’ll also make this article available to Patreon subscribers at some point soon.)

The second was published today at Municipal Dreams, one of our favourite blogs, and includes some quotations we didn’t get to use in the book, such as this by Geoffrey Moorhouse from 1964:

At the moment, whereas Shotton has five pubs, five working men’s clubs, and a cinema, Peterlee hasn’t even got a cinema. The ones who do come, so they say in Peterlee, very often stay for only a year or two, until a cottage becomes available in their old village, and then they’re back off to it with without any apparent regrets of the exchange of a modern semi for a period piece straight out of the industrial revolution.

We can’t say any of this — all the research, thousands of words — has got the obsession with this type of pub out of our system. If anything, it’s intensified it. No doubt there’ll be more on the subject here from time to time.