Sacred Text

Before Christmas we wrote a post about The Ring, a London-based drinking society, based on an email from Sue Hart, one of its long-time members.

During our correspondence she agreed to send us copies of some of the original Ring pub crawl sheets. What you see above is the oldest of the set from May 1967. In that original post Sue is quoted as saying of these crawls:

The ones put together by The Deputy took some understanding. He was a real whizz with numbers and often his Ring sheets would contain lots of mathematical riddles, or sometimes references to football teams. He would also try and get a singing spot in the right sort of pub.

Actually seeing the text brings home exactly what she means. It’s a combination of cryptic crossword, puns, in-jokes and nicknames that makes barely any sense in places.

We’re going to let the document speak for itself except for one quick observation: Wot a Lot of Watney’s!

And a footnote: Spurs did beat Chelsea, 2-1.

Martin Wainwright on London Pubs, 1977

The cover of Punch for 25-31 May 1977.

The edition of Punch for 25-31 May 1977 included a special supplement on ‘How to Make the Most of London’, including its pubs.

Martin Wainwright (@mswainwright) started writing for the Guardian in 1976 and retired in 2012. He is also the author of several books and maintains a blog about moths.

We came across this article, ‘Mild and Muzak’, via Google Books which, despite only showing a snippet, allowed us to work out which magazine to buy from Ebay and thus cite it in 20th Century Pub. (It gives a figure for the cost of fitting out Dogget’s Coat & Badge, that famous and enduring London riverside booze bunker.) We guess he wrote this piece when he was in his twenties making him an approximate contemporary of the founders of the Campaign for Real Ale. On which note, here’s the opening section:

The first problem about the London pub is how to get into it. It’s all very well discoursing on the merits of Young’s  and Ruddles’ beer, handpumps or barmaids, but if you can’t get at them without mounting a major siege, the conversation is rather academic… In too many of the capital’s pubs, you can’t. It isn’t just a provincial matter of turning a little handle or creaking open an old door into a nice snug. You have to force your way in, dig a path through your bellowing fellow-drinkers and stake out a few inches on the counter by the fierce tactical use of your elbows and all other available pointy bits.

Forty years on that is still exactly right, though you might wish to swap Cloudwater and Beavertown for Young’s and Ruddles’.

Later he mentions the Pub Information Service, a hotline sponsored by Watney’s which “has the habit of being the opposite of what its name implies”. We might write something more substantial about this at some point but Mr Wainwright’s observation — that asking the PIS (chortle) where to find Young’s Bitter would see you directed to a Watney’s pub — sounds about right.

The Muzak mentioned in the title is canned music played in pubs, though he doesn’t much prefer live music, railing against rock bands (at e.g. The Greyhound, Fulham), folk clubs (The Bull & Mouth, Bloomsbury), and “the dreaded Morris Dancing Troupe” at The Cutty Sark in Greenwich.

After a brief aside on the subject of isinglass finings (“the most significant dealers in this stuff… is the Saville Hydrological Corporation in Merton, Wimbledon”) which, by the way, uses the word ‘murky’, he gets on to beer and the price of beer:

The Campaign for Real Ale may scoff at London as a desert for naturally brewed beer. But if the proportions of real to chemically-brewed ale pubs is low, where else can you get, within a couple of square miles, Marston Pedigree, Ruddles County, Federation Clubs and Sam Smiths?

True, you can also get a remarkably different range of prices, anything from 26p to 38p for suspiciously similar types of pint. But this seems to have little effect on the booming custom, doubtless because of the even greater skill at ripping-off shown by the opposition.

The Rosetti, from a Fuller's publicity leaflet, c.1979.

On pub design, he singles out Fuller’s as notable innovators, mentioning in particular the Rossetti in St John’s Wood (see above) and the Chariot in Hounslow. Young’s in-house pub architect Ian Spate (a new name to us) may warrant further investigation — perhaps he is still around? Dogget’s Coat & Badge he calls “the pub of the 1990s”, which wasn’t meant as a joke when he wrote but certainly raises a smile from this end of the timeline.

London pub history enthusiasts who want to read the whole article will need to get their hands on the magazine. We found our copy for £4.99 delivered but you might well dig one up for less or, indeed, at your local library.

News, Nuggets & Longreads 23 December 2017: Thornbridge, Theatre, Tinsel

This is, obviously, the last Saturday news and links round-up before Christmas, featuring theatres, hot beer and juicy IPAs.

First, a bit of news: in partnership with Pivovar (Sheffield Tap, Pivni, &c.) Derbyshire brewery Thornbridge is to open ten bars across the UK. They’re a sensible, fairly cautious bunch and this reads to us as a vote of confidence in the health of the UK craft beer scene.


The George Inn, Southwark.
Illustration from Walks In London Vol. 1, c.1896.

As part of a project on the history of British theatre Andy Kesson gives us notes on the role of inns in the days before Shakespeare:

When we think of Elizabethan London playhouses, most of us think of an amphitheatre: big, round and outdoors. Sometimes we might also think of indoor playing spaces, particularly at the Blackfriars: small, rectangular and indoors… [But inns] are rarely included in accounts of the playhouses at all. This, I’m going to suggest, would have surprised Elizabethans, who may well have considered the inns as the primary, most prestigious playing houses in town. As we shall see, figures as diverse as the Queen’s Men, Richard Tarlton’s horse and Satan himself all sought access to performance at the inns.

(Via @intoxproject/@andykesson)

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Q&A: What was ‘The World of Brewing’?

When Lou Tweeted the above at us back in August we added ‘World of Brewing’ to our list of things to keep an eye out for in the archives. This week, we found something.

It’s an advertisement from around the time of the museum’s launch in June 1980 and gives a pretty decent description of its purpose along with some good, solid facts.

Text of an old newspaper ad.It’s good to know exactly where it was, for one thing — at 226 Tower Bridge Road, right next to the river.

That very distinctive name, Tarant Hobbs, is also helpful. Following that trail we discover that (a) the museum ‘flourished briefly’ but had closed by December 1980; and (b) it was backed by Big Six brewery Courage, somewhat on the quiet:

The Cornell Column, June 1980.
Hertfordshire CAMRA newsletter, June 1980

The museum might have come back to life — it seems to be listed in this 1986 tourist guide to London — and there are hints, here and there, that Tarant Hobbs might still be around. If we can find a postal address we’ll send him one of our nice letters and see if we can get him to tell us a bit more.

In the meantime if you find this reviving any long-buried memories of visiting the exhibition, do drop us a line.

The Changing Scene: Watney’s Pubs of 1964

In 1964-64 Watney Mann and its subsidiaries were on a spree of pub building in towns, New Towns and on housing estates up and down the country.

Here are photographs of and notes on those new pubs from editions of the brewery’s in-house magazine, The Red Barrel, published in 1964. Where possible we’ve credited architects and builders. Unfortunately no photography credits are provided in the magazines.

The Kingfisher, Corby, Northamptonshire
Exterior view of a modern pub; interior view of the same.
The exterior of the Kingfisher and a view of its lounge bar.

This pub on the Lodge Park estate was opened in December 1963 by E.C.M. Palmer, the chairman of Phipps, the Northampton brewer Watney’s took over in 1960. It was designed by Phipps’s in-house architects and built by Simcock and Usher Limited of Northampton. The managers were Norman Houghton and his apparently nameless wife.

A feature of the spacious public bar is the woodwork. The seating, the counter front and the ceiling are of fine quality pinewood, and a Granwood floor blend with the general appearance of the room… [It] has that essential amenity, a car park, with space for about fifty cars.

Still there? It seems so.

The Old Swan, Battersea, London

Exterior of the Old Swan from the riverside.

This riverside pub was designed by architects Stewart, Hendry & Smith and built by Siggs & Chapman of Croydon. It replaced an older riverside pub.

A full length continuous window in the ‘Riverside Bar’ overlooks the Thames, and the nautical atmosphere is accentuated by the curved boarded ceiling reminiscent of a ship’s deckhead, and by a ship’s rail for a footrail, while ship’s lanterns and porthole-style windows provide light.

Still there? No, sadly not — it was apparently demolished before 1987 (didn’t even make 25 years) and was replaced with a block of flats that cheekily borrowed the pub name.

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