How to track down dead pubs


A couple of people have recently commented on old posts because they’re trying to track down specific pubs as part of family history projects. We haven’t been much help, but there are some helpful resources out there.

1. Ewan‘s photo sets are fascinating. This Flickr set of 400+ photos of derelict, closed or repurposed pubs is a particular favourite of ours.

2. has a lot of historical information about former tenants and landlords, as well as photos of many establishments.

3. The Brewery History Society website is also an easy place to lose two or three hours. Our favourite section is on the pub livery of defunct breweries.

4. Many local libraries now offer free online newspaper searches and photo libraries, like this excellent one for the London Borough of Hackney which allows you to filter specifically for pubs.

Any other suggestions?

Republika at the Czech National Museum

Part of the recreation of a between-the-wars village pub at the Czech National Museum
Part of the recreation of a between-the-wars village pub at the Czech National Museum

You have to do something between beers when you’re on holiday in Prague. We ended up at the Czech National Museum because (a) we’re big swots and (b) it was open. Expecting grumpy staff, dusty trilobites and grubby old paintings, we were delighted to find instead a fantastic special exhibition on the history of the First Czechoslovak Republic, from 1918 to 1938.

The highlight for us, of course, was the room celebrating the traditional village pub.

Early 20th century beer bottles, glasses and advertising surrounded an antique bar with two pumps. Some of the brands on display are long gone; others are still around. There was a lot of German as well as Czech in evidence.

The accompanying text explains how village pubs worked. Tables were reserved for smallholders, who were VIPs. Allotment owners (the scum of the Earth, apparently) “sat in a corner somewhere”. There was no food, except perhaps a pickled sausage or pretzel. If you really needed to eat, the landlord’s wife would bring down leftovers from their evening meal. Bigger villages had different pubs, one for each social group.

It was not uncommon for smallholders to drink away the value of their farm in a session. Blimey. Big sessions? Expensive booze? Or just really crappy farms?

The Museum is that big grey building at the top of Wenceslas Square that looks as if it ought to be the seat of government. The exhibition runs until March 2009. Arguably the most astounding exhibit is a set of blood-spattered medals Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was wearing when he was assassinated, kicking off World War I.

Badger Pickled Partridge at the Mason's Arms

We’ve been down on Badger beer since a holiday in Dorset last year where we struggled to find a decent pint of anything, and where even Badger’s own pubs in the area were serving dish-watery, boring, stale beer which made us feel a bit sad.

But the Mason’s Arms (recommended by Jeff “Stonch” Bell here) is a Badger pub which knows how to look after its ale. The seasonal beer, Pickled Partridge, is a dark, 4.6% ‘winter warmer’ and very, very drinkable.

The emphasis is on fruitiness and hop flavour, with very little bitterness — just enough to make it moreish. There might be some spices in there somewhere, but subtly done, with none of the overwhelming cinnamon and cloves that have ruined so many Christmas beers over the years.

In short: a nice cosy, quiet pub, and a very nice beer! Badger are back in our good books.

We’ve spent a fair bit of time on Seymour Place recently, for no particular reason. The Mason’s Arms, the Carpenter’s Arms and the Austrian Imbiss are all good reasons to visit if you’re in the area.

Drinking in Elizabethan London

The Elizabethan Underworld by Gamini Salgado
The Elizabethan Underworld by Gamini Salgado

Gamini Salgado’s The Elizabethan Underworld is a fairly obvious attempt to follow the success of Kellow Chesney’s The Victorian Underworld, which itself was an update of Henry Mayhew. Nonetheless, it’s a fascinating read, especially for those interested in London’s pubs.

The first thing to note is that, according to Salgado’s sources (all fully referenced and quoted at length), Elizabethan pubs were full of con-artists, thieves, pimps and whores. A ‘cony’ was anyone new in town, usually an innocent looking bloke from the countryside, who could be preyed upon by these criminals, therefore known collectively as ‘cony-catchers’.

In short, the Elizabethan pub was a kind of trap for bumpkins.

Salgado says:

There were different grades of ordinary and tavern into which the cony was lured by the cony-catchers, ranging from the fashionably expensive to the squalid.

He lists:

  • twelvepenny ordinaries — posh pubs for fashionable chaps to play dice or cards
  • citizens ordinaries — where skint professional types hung out, from bedsit dwelling bachelors to stingy lawyers, ‘the price threepence’
  • low ordinaries — ‘where eating and drinking was largely incidental to more dubious occupations’
  • alehouses — ‘often… the back kitchen of a mean dwelling, standing on some obscure back street, and… frequently unlicensed’.

A woodcut of an Elizabethan tavern scene

The latter sounds interesting, with more beer being consumed than wine, unlike the other types of establishment. According to Salgado, alehouses proliferated in the 16th century because people got fussy about their beer and were no longer keen to drink nasty homebrewed ale. Bigger brewers would sell commercial beer to amateur back-room landlords on credit, who would then only need to find a few tables a and chairs to make a bit of cash on the side.

Sadly, no mention is made of Pimlico Ale, which continues to intrigue us.

This is another in our series of pub guides for time travellers. See this post for info on London in the 1960s.