Geoffrey Fletcher on Victorian Pubs, 1962

Geoffrey Fletcher (1923–2004) wrote and illustrated a lot of books – observations of the unglamorous end of London life, from pie shops to street markets.

His most famous book is The Lon­don Nobody Knows, pub­lished in 1962 and the basis of a cult doc­u­men­tary from 1969.

We’d pre­vi­ous­ly only read it in libraries but final­ly got our own copy last week­end – a 1965 Pen­guin edi­tion that cost £2.50.

Though most of Fletcher’s books men­tion pubs in pass­ing – we quot­ed a cou­ple in 20th Cen­tu­ry Pub – it’s in chap­ter eight of The Lon­don Nobody Knows that he real­ly sets out his man­i­festo:

One of the strik­ing char­ac­ter­is­tics of Lon­don pubs is the way in which dif­fer­ent pubs have an appeal to dif­fer­ent kinds of patrons.

To under­line his point he goes on to list var­i­ous types of pub, from legal pubs to “homo­sex­u­als’ pubs… where queers meet queers”.

Like Bet­je­man, Osbert Lan­cast­er, Rod­dy Gra­didge and oth­er con­tem­po­raries, Fletch­er believed that Vic­to­ri­an pubs were the pin­na­cle of the form:

Lon­don pubs are rich in the trap­pings of the Vic­to­ri­an age, which knew exact­ly how a town pub should appear. A fine one is illus­trat­ed here – the King and Queen in the Har­row Road. This is nine­teenth-cen­tu­ry Baroque at its most florid. Grey mar­ble columns ris­er from a mosa­ic floor, raised a step above the pave­ment. There is splen­did iron­work – iron let­ters and wrought iron – over the door. The words ‘Saloon Bar’ have a bucol­ic aban­don… The archi­tects of the late Vic­to­ri­an pubs and music-halls knew exact­ly what the sit­u­a­tion demand­ed – extrav­a­gance, exu­ber­ance, and plen­ty of dec­o­ra­tion for its own sake.

The King and Queen
The King and Queen, Har­row Road, as drawn by Geof­frey Fletch­er.

Oth­er pubs Fletch­er men­tions by name as good exam­ples include the Lamb in Lead­en­hall mar­ket (still worth stop­ping to look at today), the Black Fri­ar at Black­fri­ars, and the Crown on Cun­ning­ham Place, St John’s Wood/Maida Vale. The lat­ter is still there, appar­ent­ly with a nice­ly pre­served inte­ri­or, but as a gastropub/bistro called, for some rea­son, ‘Crocker’s Fol­ly’. Fletch­er also pro­vides draw­ings of The Lamb and The Black Fri­ar.

Beyond fix­tures and fit­tings, Fletch­er has views on pub cul­ture, too:

Although… the East End is los­ing some of its strong­ly focal char­ac­ter, the old life of the pubs in those parts of Lon­don still per­sists. A week­end pub crawl in such places as Shored­itch, Step­ney, and Hack­ney is the way to see it at first hand. Here the East End ‘ma’ con­tin­ues to flour­ish, the large sized, per­haps even pneu­mat­ic spec­i­men who was no stranger to Phil May and Albert Cheva­lier, joins in the cho­rus, sup­port­ed at the bar by a but­toned horse­hair seat and at the front by a large Guin­ness. Such peri­od char­ac­ters must dis­ap­pear some­time – that is where the funer­al par­lour comes in; if so, how­ev­er, they are at once replaced by repli­cas, pre­sum­ably on a sys­tem known only to the East End.

That’s yet more evi­dence of the link between women and stout, by the way, which we’ll file away for future ref­er­ence.

You can find copies of The Lon­don Nobody Knows knock­ing around in sec­ond-hand book shops or online, or there’s a fair­ly recent reprint and eBook edi­tion from the His­to­ry Press, with a fore­word by Dan Cruik­shank.

The post-Camden world

A recent in-depth listicle from Pellicle made us reflect on how Camden Hells was a turning point, though we didn’t recognise the turn while it was taking place.

Back in around 2012, it was easy to over­look: sharp brand­ing aside, it was just anoth­er ‘craft lager’, fol­low­ing in the foot­steps of Zero Degrees, Mean­time and Free­dom.

We didn’t think it tast­ed espe­cial­ly excit­ing – per­haps a touch more appeal­ing than some main­stream draught lagers.

The com­pa­ny had its fans, but also its detrac­tors, not least those in the indus­try irri­tat­ed by a sense that it was out­right buy­ing cov­er­age, or was over-hyped, or was fail­ing to be trans­par­ent with con­sumers.

What we should have paid more atten­tion to was that our friends who weren’t espe­cial­ly inter­est­ed in beer – who would turn pale if you accused them of being beer geeks – seemed to like Hells a lot. They were switch­ing from Fos­ter’s, Stel­la, Per­oni, and (per­haps cru­cial­ly) drink­ing Hells just as they’d drunk those oth­er beers: by the pint, pint after pint.

With hind­sight, it’s easy to see why they’d make the switch. Hells was light-tast­ing, rea­son­ably strong, clean and clear; usu­al­ly came in smart but chunky glass­ware; and the brand­ing was nice – bold, con­tem­po­rary, declar­ing itself a Lon­don­er.

To reit­er­ate, Hells cer­tain­ly was­n’t the first British craft lager, but it might yet turn out to be the most influ­en­tial.

It prob­a­bly prompt­ed Fuller’s Fron­tier (2013), Adnams Dry Hopped (2013), and Guin­ness Hop House 13 (2015), to name but three exam­ples.

And we’re cer­tain it’s why brew­eries like Moor have been unable to resist giv­ing lager a go in recent years, even though that’s not some­thing that seemed on the agen­da for them a decade ago.

The recent launch of Carls­berg Dan­ish Pil­sner must also sure­ly be a reac­tion to Hells, or at least indi­rect­ly, via Hop House 13 and the oth­ers.

Beer in ‘Victory’ magazine, September 1945

Victory was the magazine for armed services in India during World War II. We found a solitary tatty copy in a bargain bin in a bookshop – the September 1945 edition – and of course noticed references to beer throughout.

First, there are the adverts: one in the front for lager and one at the back for pale ale and stout. (Here’s Mur­ree today; and here’s Mohan Meakin.)

Advert for lion pilsener beer. Advert for Solan pale ale and XXX stout.

Then there are illus­tra­tions for arti­cles and sto­ries which include beer when they don’t need to – the first accom­pa­nies a com­ic tall tale of the adven­tures of an RAF offi­cer, and the sec­ond a soupy tale of a sol­dier falling in love remote­ly with a com­rade’s sis­ter.

RAF officer with pint. Photo and pints of beer.

Final­ly, though it has no illus­tra­tion of note, there’s a fan­tas­tic piece called ‘The Man in the Cor­ner on… Rationing’. The Man in the Cor­ner is a hec­tor­ing bore who argues in favour of con­tin­u­ing rationing even after the war because he thinks it’s good for peo­ple, good for soci­ety, and incon­ve­niences peo­ple he does­n’t like. The punch­line is:

There’s only one thing I’m all against rationing – and that’s beer. It’s fair tired me out this war run­ning from pub to pub – first it’s fetch your own glass, then it’s only half-a-pint served at any one time, then it’s reg­u­lar cus­tomers only… there’s half-a-dozen kinds of what you might call rationing. And I hate the lot of them.

All of this ties into a the­o­ry we’ve had brew­ing for a while: that the rea­son beer and pubs sud­den­ly became respectable top­ics to write about, and accept­able as hob­bies, was because of the gen­er­al break­down of class dis­tinc­tions brought about by the war. We’re going to explore that thought a lit­tle more in anoth­er blog post soon.

The Man Within Compass: mystery solved?

A couple of months ago someone tagged us into a Twitter query: what is the origin of the name of a pub called The Man Within Compass? After weeks of digging around, we think we’ve sussed it.

The Man With­in Com­pass is a famous real ale pub in Whitwick, near Coalville, in Leices­ter­shire, and has been in numer­ous edi­tions of the CAMRA Good Beer Guide over the years.

Its name is appar­ent­ly unique and cer­tain­ly mys­te­ri­ous – none of the stan­dard ref­er­ences seem to even offer a sug­ges­tion. There’s no joy to be had from local his­to­ry web­sites, either.

So, we went through our usu­al research rou­tines:

1. Search the exact phrase using quotes (“man with­in com­pass”) to see if it appears in old books, news­pa­pers or the Bible. All the ref­er­ences we found were to the pub itself, or seemed unlike­ly to be con­nect­ed, e.g. John Locke uses those words in that order but there’s no obvi­ous link.

2. Search vari­a­tions on the phrase: “man­with­in com­pass” and “man with­en com­pass” (between unortho­dox spelling and dodgy OCR, this can some­times turn up results); “man­wid­den com­pass” (pub names are often man­gled ver­sions of place or per­son­al names); and “men with­in com­pass”.

3. Look for par­tial match­es: “man with­in”, “with­in com­pass”, “man * com­pass”, and so on.

It was “with­in com­pass” that unlocked it, specif­i­cal­ly lead­ing us to the fol­low­ing mass-pro­duced print from c.1820 at the British Muse­um web­site.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “The Man With­in Com­pass: mys­tery solved?”

Snapshot: Guinness in Nigeria

In 1962, Guinness opened a brewery at Ikeja in Nigeria. The management was made up largely of British and Irish migrants, such as Alan Coxon, who went to Nigeria in 1966 to work as plant technical director.

We know this because his daugh­ter, Fiona Gudge, is the own­er of the large col­lec­tion of Guin­ness papers we’ve sort­ing through and cat­a­logu­ing for the past six months.

What fol­lows, with Fiona’s input, is a brief snap­shot of the emer­gence of a new kind of colo­nial­ism that emerged in the wake of Nigeria’s inde­pen­dence in 1960, and the strange dom­i­nance of Irish stout in West Africa.

Timeline

1958 | Britain agrees to grant Nigeria independence
1959 | Guinness Nigeria founded
1960 | Nigerian independence
1962 | Guinness opens brewery in Nigeria
1963 | Federal Republic of Nigeria declared
1965 | Guinness Nigeria listed on Nigerian stock exchange
1966 | Two military coups
1966 | Alan Coxon begins working at Ikeja
1967 | Beginning of the Nigerian Civil War (Biafran War)
1970 | End of Nigerian Civil War
1970 | Second National Development Plan, 1970-74
1971 | Coxon family leaves Nigeria
1972 | Nigerian Enterprises Promotion Decree (Indigenisation Decree)
1974 | NEPD into effect
1984 | Notice given of ban on import into Nigeria of barley
1998 | Stout production ceases at Ikeja

Con­tin­ue read­ing “Snap­shot: Guin­ness in Nige­ria”