Pub Life: For the Slugs

A slug approaching a pint of beer.

A warm evening in late summer, the smell of weed on the air, and blackberry stains on the pathway to the pub door.

Ahead of us in the queue a middle-aged woman in sensible shoes and a sensible but bramble-bothered jumper, with black mud beneath her nails.

“Oh, hello — I wonder if you can help me… Do you, by any chance, have any beer dregs I might take away with me?”

She waves a large margarine tub hopefully.

“Dregs?”

“Waste beer. For the slugs. On my allotment.”

“For the slugs?”

“For the slug traps. Slugs love beer. Keeps ’em off my plants! They drown in it.”

The young woman behind the bar eyes the gardener with suspicion. How can she be sure this strange stranger won’t just guzzle down the slops straight from the plastic the minute she gets outside? Desperate people will do all sorts of weird things for a freebie. She decides on a delaying tactic, a test of commitment.

“I can’t give you any now because we’re in the middle of service but if you come back at closing time when we’re cleaning out the drip trays I might be able to help. Once I’ve asked my manager, obviously.”

“Closing time? Oh, no, I’m afraid I shall be in bed by then. You couldn’t…?”

She waves the tub seductively.

A shake of the head.

And so the slugs, or perhaps the gardener, went thirsty that night.

Bottle & Jug

One night last week, guided by The Buildings of England, we made our way to the Shakespeare in Redland, Bristol, and gazed upon the ghost of its Bottle & Jug.

Bottle & Jug was a phrase we didn’t know six years ago which is why we found this oddly arranged historic sign on the side door of The Crown in Penzance so baffling — ‘Bottle Bar & Jug? Eh?’

Jug & Bottle sign at the Crown, Penzance.
Sorry this photo is so crap. It’s only from 2011.

We were being dim, of course — it’s Bottle & Jug, and then Bar. Here’s how Francis W.B. Yorke explains it in his manual for pub designers from 1949:

The out-door department, sometimes called ‘off licence’ or ‘off sales’, and formerly known as ‘jug and bottle’ department, is set aside for the sale of intoxicating drinks ‘to be consumed off the premises’, and by law may not be used (as formerly) for the consumption of drink. It may be planned off the general servery, or as a separate unit. It must be in direct communication with the street, quite shut off from drinking areas, and contain no seating. It is the only public room a child under the age of fourteen may enter.

The Shakespeare has a fairly well-preserved Edwardian exterior but much of the interior has been remodelled in 21st century style with every surface either grey paint or bare wood, and partitions removed to make one long bar room.

There are still odd bits to enjoy, though, such as the stained glass signs for LADIES and GENTLEMEN on the toilet doors, for example. Very helpfully for roving pub nerds there are also framed plans of the pub before and after its early 20th century rebuild.

A plan of the Shakespeare, Redland.

That’s how we spotted another lingering relic of the old layout: a narrow corridor of blue and white tiles running from the front door up to the bar. Assuming they are original (they look it) are all that remains of the old Bottle & Jug. They interrupt the floorboards, insisting upon the distinction between rooms that no longer exist, across the distance of a century.

Back before World War I, take-away customers (often kids sent by their parents — the cause of much worry for social campaigners) would come through what is now the main door and, between panels protecting their privacy, and that of sit-in drinkers, and order beer to go at the long counter which serviced all three parts of the pub.

It would be nice if those partitions were still there but in their absence it’s pleasing that the old layout can at least be discerned with some imagination, like the outlines of an Iron Age settlement visible in the bumps and ditches of an English field system.

COMPETITION: Book Bundle

Competition prizes: 20th Century Pub and Brew Britannia, new edition.

UPDATE: 13.09.2017 THIS COMPETITION IS NOW CLOSED.

The winners are @beerfoodtravel and @claytonbrooke.

As is customary around the time a book comes out we’re going to run a little competition.

We’re going to give away two bundles each comprising one copy of the new book, 20th Century Pub, and a copy of the new edition of Brew Britannia (smaller, not updated, but corrected).

There are two ways to enter.

1. With a Photo

The Grey Horse, Manchester.

For this part of the competition, we want you share on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook your very best picture on the theme of the 20th century English pub using the hashtag #20thCenturyPub.

Interpret that theme as liberally or creatively as you like.

We’re after evocative images, not necessarily the most technically accomplished.

We’ll look at all the contenders we’ve received by midnight on Tuesday 12 September and declare a winner on Wednesday 13. (See T&Cs below.)

2. With 100 Words

A pen on a table next to a beer mat and glass.

If you’re not so handy with a camera, try writing. For this, we’re after 100 words (give or take 10-15 either way) on the same topic as above — that is, the 20th century English pub.

It can be a memory, an anecdote, a pen portrait, or whatever else you like.

We don’t care about spelling or grammar — it’s just a bit of fun.

Post it as a screengrab on Twitter, as a Facebook post, or on your own blog, and let us know about it however you like. You could also post it in the comments below or, if you’re shy, email it directly to us at contact@boakandbailey.com

Again, we’ll look at all the contenders we’ve received by midnight on Tuesday 12 September and declare a winner on Wednesday 13. (See T&Cs below.)

3. Terms and Notes
  • You can enter wherever you are in the world; if someone overseas wins, we’ll worry about postage costs then.
  • If you post on Facebook and don’t set the post visibility to ‘Public’, we won’t be able to see it. The same also goes for private/locked Instagram and Twitter accounts.
  • Our decision is final and we won’t enter into any debate over it.
  • We reserve the right to disqualify entries for suspected cheating, or any other reason whatsoever.
  • Once we’ve emailed the winners to get their postal addresses for dispatch, they’ll have 48 hours to respond or the prize will default to another winner.
  • It’s only a bit of fun.

Everything We Wrote in August 2017: Lager Louts, Vapeman, Backstreet Boozers

August 2017 -- psychedelic poster design

That was a pretty decent month with lots of new stuff covering all the angles from history to tasting notes via the usual navel-gazing.

We missed a few days here and there because, e.g., we were in London for GBBF, but even then we kept up a flow of Twitter, Facebook and Instagram posts.

If you think this lot, along with quite a few Patreon exclusive blog posts, is worth a couple of quid a month do consider subscribing.

Continue reading “Everything We Wrote in August 2017: Lager Louts, Vapeman, Backstreet Boozers”

‘Death of the Backstreet Boozer’

The pubs we’ve lost in greatest numbers aren’t the big ones on main roads — they’re the often smaller, more intimate establishments on back streets and estates, where people actually live.

Further evidence to support this view arrived in our Twitter timeline earlier this week:

And this summary struck home with particular impact:

The map referenced (irritatingly uncredited at first, though they’ve since apologised and given him a shout out) is from Ewan’s incredibly comprehensive London pub blog Pubology. Do go and explore it, and bookmark it, if you haven’t already. There are maps for many other postcodes (e.g.) many of which show a broadly similar picture — red and yellow dots in the backstreets, green on the arteries.

In the new book we give a bit of thought to how many pubs are closing, and which ones, concluding that it’s easy for middle class commentators to shrug closures off because it’s not their pubs that are disappearing. This is another angle on the same issue.

We know @urbanpastoral is right from our own compulsive wandering: if you stick to main roads in London, or any other major city, there are plenty of pubs. But cut back a block and the story can be quite different. We’ve seen it with our own eyes — walked miles on the secondary route without seeing a single operating pub, even if the buildings remain, converted for residential, retail or some other use.

Coincidentally, on the same day, we came across a note of a parliamentary debate from 1961 in which one MP, William Rees-Davies, saw this coming:

I do not think that alcohol is evil in itself. I find that drinking with meals is more beneficial than drinking without a meal. I do not want ‘pub’ crawling to continue. That is why I coined the word—I thought it was quite attractive at the time—the ‘prub’. I believe that we shall see a social change in our time and the ‘pubs’ will become all-purpose restaurants. I believe that we shall see the larger ‘pubs’ taking over and the smaller ‘pubs’ gradually turning in their licences.

(He was MP for Thanet, by the way, which just happens to be micropub central.)

It all makes sense in commercial terms of course and big pubs on main roads have many advantages. Backstreet pubs don’t get as much passing trade, obviously. They can be a nuisance for those who live near them, and are harder to police. (More on this coming up.) And smaller pubs especially, without room for kitchens, waiters, gardens, pushchairs, and so on, are at a particular disadvantage in the 21st century.

Of course there are many, many exceptions — Bailey wrote about one earlier this week; and our old Walthamstow local The Nags Head is another. It’s funny, now we think of it, that those lingering backstreet pubs are often (to indulge in wishy-washy feelings for a moment) the nicest, being all the better for their seclusion and semi-secrecy.‘D

As it happens in our new neighbourhood, along with quite a few food-heavy ‘prubs’ on the A road, we’ve got a couple of surviving back street pubs. We’ll have to keep an eye on them. And, of course, drink in them as often as we can manage.