Categories
20th Century Pub Beer history

Comus Elliott’s neverending pub quest in his own words

When we came across the story of compulsive pub ticker Comus Elliott, we wrote it up, with at least a small hope that it might prompt him to get in touch. And it did.

Mr Elliott is still with us and still visiting pubs, plagues permitting, and through his daughter, Caroline, made contact. We emailed a few prompts – where and when was he born and brought up? How did his father, Charles, get into ticking pubs? Which are his favourite pubs? And so on.

In response, he sent some handwritten notes on his life and career which we’ve typed up and present below with some small edits for clarity.

* * *

I was born 1940 in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, and moved to North London in 1945. Attended Princess Road Junior Mixed School, near Primrose Hill, and then William Ellis Grammar School (Boys) at Parliament Hill till 1958. After 8 O levels and 3 A levels I joined Barclays Bank in September 1958 and was employed in the Trustee Department dealing with estate administration, investment management and taxations where I stayed until 1994.

With Barclays, I moved from North London, West End, City and then to Chelmsford, Essex, Preston, Lancs, and Manchester and Knutsford in the North West.

When the bank reorganised the trustee side, I took (very) early retirement, but continued working in probate with a firm of solicitors in Maidstone, Kent.

All those moves assisted enormously in notching up new pubs!

I have no idea now my father started except for some reason he wanted to visit, and drink in every pub within the London Postal District, then round about 4,400 of them. He actually achieved 4,200 before his death in 2001. He did also keep a record of other pubs in the country but, important as they were, they were not his main aim.

I visited my first, but under age at 16, but was never challenged on age until the eve of my 18th birthday. I had by then decided that I would, too, record pubs visited – not in competition, though.

I kept (still keep) a fairly comprehensive record of those visited, with card index style systems for both names and locations. I also keep a chronological list of London Postal and each individual county, noting name, address, overall number in list of visits, brewery ownership or free house, and date visited.

My father was press and public relations officer for the Gas Council in London and therefore had many contacts in the newspaper world and eventually we were taken on a London pub crawl (six) one evening by the then News of the World who wanted to write a feature article.

That was followed up by several others, including Austin Hatton’s A Monthly Bulletin, so publicity started and continued on and off for some years, including TV appearances on About Anglia in 1968 and Look North West in Manchester, 1981.

Main publicity was attracted when my father and I reached significant milestones on our journey – the 100th, 5,000th, 10,000th, and my father’s 4,000th London Postal District pub. At such events we held parties for drinking companions who knew of our obsession.

Pubs have changed a great deal since my early collecting days, and not always for the better. Nice old drinking dens have either been closed or tarted up, often now food led. There are still nice old pubs if you can bother to seek them out (the Good Pub Guide and Good Beer Guide are invaluable). I much prefer a simple, old-fashioned pub – town or country – with good beer, good atmosphere, no loud games, TV.

Yes, some decent food, but not to the extremes that some so-called ‘gastropubs’ go to.

“Due to Covid, I’ve only done seven new ones in 2020, but my total is just over 16,000 now.”

Comus Elliott

Nice old original features have so often been ripped out in the guise of progress. Certainly the ideal English pub is not dead as some would have it but we should be careful to protect what is left.

In my prime I would try and average one new [pub] per day – not every day, but 365 [new pubs] in [each] year. I usually managed till I retired in 2000, and living in rural Northumberland, it’s difficult to find many new ones – fortunately, those that are within striking distance are well worth visiting time and again. Due to Covid, [I’ve] only done seven new ones in 2020, but my total is just over 16,000 now.

As regards my ‘favourite’ pubs – how about the one that I am in at the time? Different pubs for different reasons – one next to a sports event, after the theatre, to take your wife, to take somebody else’s wife, it’s the closest and nearly closing time, etc. etc…

Individual favourites include my own current local in Seahouses, The Old Ship – brilliant (old, good beer, good situation in the harbour, excellent long-serving staff (been in one family over 100 years).

Then there is The Blue Lion, East Witton, Yorks (food, atmosphere, Black Sheep, and a lovely place to stay).

The Red Lion, Burnsall, Yorks – I first stayed there with my father in 1961, when we were walking in the Pennines. Through a distant family connection I’ve been back a few times in the past three years and it’s as good as ever. Family run, like most good pubs seem to be – you can tell the difference between such, and a managed pub.

Pubs sadly gone include The Crown and The Paxton at Gipsy Hill in South London, and several village pubs in Quainton, Bucks, where my aunt and uncle kept The George & Dragon for some years in the 1950s and 60s.

I joined CAMRA for news of pubs and books, but have never been an active member. I never joined the SPBW.

Generally, friends and relations have looked kindly (perhaps enviously?) upon my hobby and are quite happy to join in, either with transport or advise on new pubs in their area. They also like the celebratory milestone parties!

Categories
News

News, nuggets and longreads 9 January 2021: aerosols, Allegra glasses, aalhouses

Here’s everything on beer and pubs that caught our attention in the past week, from fruity esters to Brussels beer slang.

Once again, let’s get the grim reality of now out of the way first. For New StatesmanSarah Manavis has written about aerosol transmission of COVID-19 in enclosed spaces:

People who have had coronavirus are truly baffled as to how they managed to catch it, because they wore a mask, distanced and followed official guidelines. This is not a problem of ignorance or denial, but a lack of education – and that, like so much else during this pandemic, is the fault of the government… Little has been said since the spring about the dangers of meeting indoors, even as restrictions are tightened.

And with pubs forced to close once again (see above) the Government has announced a new round of one-off grants for leisure, hospitality and retail businesses. Again, they’ve ignored the supply chain – breweries get nothing, for example – but hopefully for some, this will be the necessary bare minimum to see them through to the easing of restrictions in spring.

In the meantime, could they operate as vaccination centres? Some operators certainly seem to think so.


On a less gloomy note, the London Beer and Pub Guide has published its end-of-year stats and finds that 2020 hasn’t yet wrought disaster on the city’s beer scene:

We started 2020 with 323 Guide entries (this includes pubs, brewery taps, tap rooms, bottle shop bars, etc) and, rather bizarrely, we end the year with 323. Not surprisingly, this year saw a sharp reduction in the number of new places added to the Guide: from a record total of 80 in 2019, in 2020 we added just 25. Only four of those 25 were added after mid March… Balancing the 25 new entries were 25 deletions, and while many of these are due to the pandemic, this is not the case for them all.


A ripe peach.

For Ferment, the promotional magazine for a beer subscription service, Mark Dredge provides a useful explainer about esters – what they are, how they influence the taste of your beer and why they’re no longer talked about only in relation to quirky German and Belgian beers:

For his hazy modern IPAs, [Sam] Dickison [of Boxcar Brewing] is trying to great an ester profile of “addictively delicious fruit”. Think Fruit Salad sweets, peach, apple and vanilla. To get that he uses a blend of different yeasts: “I like blends because I feel like a lot of yeasts have some aspects where I’d prefer less of one thing and more of the other stuff. It’s interesting to see if in a blend, flavours from another yeast can mask some of the flavours you’re not so keen on.”


Cactus in a desert.

SOURCE: Christoph von Gellhorn on Unsplash.

At Bring on the BeerMichael has provided some practical tips on how to do Dry January if you’ve decided it’s for you:

The arguments over lo/no have been done to death but the one truth is that the range, and quality of that range, is growing. In 2016 all I had was Becks Blue and Kopparberg Non Alcoholic Cider. Now there is an absolute plethora of options and styles from brands such as Hammerton, Brooklyn, Budweiser, Birra Moretti, Peroni, Drop Bear, Pistonhead, Guinness Open Gate, Big Drop, St Peters, Adnams, Sharps, Tiny Rebel, Northern Monk, Br*wD*g…. the list goes on and on.


Wexford

At Beer Food TravelLiam has been exploring words for food and drink in Yola, an almost-extinct language spoken by English-ish settlers in Wexford, Ireland, and their descendents:

Back in 1867 an Englishman called William Barnes published a book with the typical-for-the-time long title of A Glossary with Some Pieces of Verse of the Old Dialect of the English Colony in the Baronies of Forth and Bargy, County of Wexford, Ireland, which included information collected by Wexford native Jacob Poole around 1823… Barnes goes into great detail on pronunciation and origins of the language, suggesting it is closely connected to the language spoken in Somerset, Dorset and Devon in the past…


Verscheuren, Brussels.

This, in turn, inspired Eoghan Walsh to dig into the booze-related dialect of his adopted home for Brussels Beer City, providing 27 Brusseleir words for drinking and drunkenness:

Beeke (noun): small beer

Boemele (verb): to get drunk regularly

Druuge leiver (noun): drunk, drinker (literally, dry liver)


Allegra stemless glass.

SOURCE: Adapted from a product image at Festival Glass.

Finally, here’s something you don’t see often these days: a review of a beer glass, the Allegra stemless. It’s by Marianne Hodgkinson from the Time at the Bar podcast and makes, among others, this interesting observation:

Stemless Allegras are undeniably attractive to look at, and in a world where looks equal likes, the natural benefit of breweries adopting this glassware is the free advertisement they will get online as every beer geek worth thier salt snaps and tags thier products into the public eye. Though one might argue that these glasses drift dangerously close to #propervaseware, the effect will still financially benefit the breweries.


From Twitter, there’s this thread of retro Kitsch:

For more good reading, check out Alan McLeod’s round-up from Thursday.

Categories
beer reviews Beer styles

In search of ESB – bitter and fruity

The latest coronavirus restrictions now prevent pubs from selling takeaway alcohol, subject to clarifications or U-turns like those that came along under pressure from lobbyists last time, so that looks like an end to our Drapers Arms takeaways for the foreseeable. But at least our final pint was a fantastic ESB.

Severn Brewing Extra Special Bitter just straight-up delighted us: it was dark, fruity and, above all, bitter.

Discussing it, we decided that often when we have a beer describing itself as ESB, it just isn’t bitter enough and it ends up tasting like mild or porter.

Just based on the name, ESB really should be a turbo-charged version of bitter, with some of the dials turned up. In practice, we suppose that means the hopping has to go up to balance the increase in maltiness.

Of course, having had that conversation we looked up our notes from last time we tried Severn’s take – a helpful side effect of maintaining a record of our favourite beers for Patreon round-ups – and found that on that occasion, we did describe it as like a sweet, fruity best mild.

We enjoyed it, but definitely noticed an absence of bitterness.

And, in fact, there were some even earlier notes, from right at the start of 2020, which can probably be summarised as “How DARE they bestow upon this merely adequate brown soup the mighty name of ESB!?”

This made us wonder if freshness might be a factor – that if the beer is a few days or weeks older, it might have dried out and matured.

We thought about the differences in Fullers’ ESB, the template for them all, and perhaps we’ve observed the same thing. Sometimes there’s noticeably more depth of flavour and a richer mouthfeel and, at its worst, it can taste distinctly muddy.

Is ESB fundamentally more of a diva than ordinary bitter? Or maybe the fact that it’s strong (Severn’s is 5.2%) means it tends to hang around a little longer and is more likely to change and evolve at point of sale? 

If only we could test this theory out in some pubs across the country over the next couple of months. We’d be well up for seeing out winter with a focus on this barely-a-style.

In fact, we can still do that: if anyone has got any good suggestions for ESBs that we can order online, do please let us know.

Categories
20th Century Pub london

The Tabard – the first improved pub?

It’s always a delight to discover historically-interesting pubs, even if it messes somewhat with the narrative of the book you sweated over for two years.

When we came across mention of The Tabard, Bedford Park, our first thoughts were “Wow, that looks like a prototype improved public house” and “How did we miss this when we were researching 20th Century Pub?”

Of course, one reason for missing it is that it was built in 1880 and so was well out of the scope of our book. We did, however, highlight some examples of pre-WWI improved pubs, or pubs built in a different style to the prevailing late Victorian/Edwardian gin palace cliche. For example, the Forester in Ealing, built 1909 by Nowell Parr. 

We even formed a theory that there was some specific trend-bucking in West London (or rather the Middlesex Licencing area) in the Edwardian era. That is, at a time when most magistrates in England were concerned with reducing the number of licenced premises, there seemed to be a lot of new pubs being built in Ealing and other areas of West London.

We wondered whether local breweries such as Fullers and the Royal Brentford Brewery enjoyed a particularly productive partnership with the local justices, perhaps because these breweries were prepared to build posher pubs. Or maybe the magistrates were more relaxed. Or perhaps a combination of the two.

Unfortunately, this was something we couldn’t pin down with facts and figures so we left it out of the book. 

Back to The Tabard: what do we know? It was part of the privately developed Bedford Park suburb, described by some as “the first garden suburb”.

The architect was Richard Norman Shaw, one of the most renowned architects of his time. The Historic England listing for the Tabard describes it as “Queen Anne style” while the Camra pub heritage site entry highlights its Arts and Crafts features.

Several websites, including Historic England, refer to the pub being a “pioneering improved pub”. Improved pubs, as you probably know, is a term generally used to describe a particular trend or movement in the early 20th century which sought to elevate the status and reputation of pubs. Not to make them posh, as such, but more respectable, largely in an effort to head off any moves toward prohibition.

Now, unpicking this a bit more, we think we’d probably challenge the claim that The Tabard qualifies. On an architectural level, you can see a relationship between this and the Nowell Parr pubs, and from there you could draw a link to the neo-Georgian movement.

And perhaps more compellingly, there’s something about its status as a community space, not just a drinking den. Searches in the newspaper archives throw up countless examples of it being used as a meeting place or a concert venue. And its current incarnation hosts a small theatre, so there is a pleasing continuity there.

However, we would stop short of calling it “an improved pub” firstly because we don’t have any evidence of this concept existing in 1880. At this point, although England’s pubs were past their all time historical high numbers, magistrates hadn’t really begun flexing their muscles, the temperance movement had not gained significant political traction and the Trust House movement was a good 20 years in the future.

Secondly, there’s no evidence that it was an influence on later “improved pubs” in the way that Harry Redfearn’s pioneering work in Carlisle was. We couldn’t find anything about the pub being designed to be more efficient, for example, or laid out in a way to discourage drunkenness.

So, we don’t think we need to beat ourselves up about not mentioning The Tabard in our book. However, it is further evidence that there was more going on in Victorian pub architecture than gin palaces and beer houses and is, of course, a fascinating thing in its own right.

We can’t wait to visit, hopefully later this year.

Main image via Village London, 1883.

Categories
Blogging and writing News

News, nuggets and longreads 2 January 2021: Future Shock

After a couple of weeks off, partly because beer writing and blogging also went into hibernation, we’re back with our first round-up of 2021.

Once again, things are bleak. As various wags have pointed out, the only pubs you can now sit in for a drink are on Scilly and UK COVID-19 case numbers look scarier than ever. Still, at least vaccines are beginning to roll out – though even that has somehow become fraught and and confusing.

Still, beer continues to exist, and pubs continue to fascinate, and writing about them rolls on.


Brussels blood sausage.

At Brussels Beer City, with the help of his wife, Eoghan Walsh provides notes on whether there is such a thing as traditional Bruxellois Christmas food and, if so, which of the city’s beers might best pair with what:

Irish Christmas traditions are pretty standard when it comes to food, and are what you might expect from the archipelago of English-speaking islands in the northwestern corner of Europe: mince pies, Christmas cake and pudding, turkey, stuffing, ham, various iterations of potatoes (mashed, roasted, parsley), gravy. In asking around what constituted a Brussels Christmas, it became clear that no such culinary canon existed. For some people, game – rabbit often, sometimes small birds – featured highly, while for others it was all about salmon. Noting Brussels’ long history of migrant communities, people suggested dishes with Spanish, Italian, Moroccan, and French influences…


A pint and a book.

Suzy Aldridge has launched a new blog, Hobbyist Lobbyist, with a bit less beer than the old one but still plenty of room for, say, reflections on the magic of bar stools:

There’s just enough space on the curved end of the bar for your pint, your book, and a pot of olives. There’s four more seats at the bar but you’re just out the way enough that no-one needs to lean over you to order. You occasionally duck so they can read the blackboard behind you but you don’t mind, in fact you can recommend the stout – gesturing at your tankard. The bar staff are charming, the ebb and flow of customers sharing the bar with you is friendly and comfortable. You are at peace.


Alice Batham

For Burum Collective, Helen Anne Smith has interviewed Alice Batham, an early-career brewer with a name famous among beer geeks:

“My family own a brewery, so I have actually grown up in the industry. When I was younger, I used to go to the brewery with my Dad, it was only ever like a Saturday, or Sunday kind of thing. I was never pressured into going into beer. I went to University to do English and – it sounds like super cliche whenever I say this to people, but I went and lived in Australia for a bit. Their bar and pub scene is just so different and I realised how much I loved it and missed it.”


Rural Jamaica

In his ongoing research into porter and stout (there’s a big book on the way) Martyn Cornell continues to find new stories to tell. This week, he shone a light on the historic popularity of porter among working-class Jamaicans:

Draught porter was sold from draught porter shops, in existence in Kingston, Jamaica from at least the Edwardian era; from casks in refreshment parlors that also sold fried fish and bread; and also by travelling salesmen, who would call out “Draaf porter!” as they travelled on foot around rural villages in the Jamaican interior, carrying a large tin container with a spout, and cans in quart, pint, half-pint and gill (quarter-pint, pronounced “jill”) sizes, for serving… Draught porter, often referred to as “drought porter,” was brewed by Jamaica’s many soda water and soft drinks manufacturers using “wet sugar,” a type of molasses made by the hundreds of small cane-sugar farmers in the Jamaican countryside and sold in tins. Draught porter retailed for an exceedingly cheap 1½ pence a glass, and was the drink of Jamaica’s poorest classes.


Breakfast now being served.

Liam at Beer, Food, Travel has unearthed a fun little thing – a rundown of the correct names for drinks taken at various times of day, from 1892. At the time of writing, we ought to have put away our eye openers (6am), be working on our appetizers (7am) and looking forward to digesters at 8am. (Ugh.)


After a slow start, a decent number of Golden Pints posts did appear in the end. If we’ve missed yours, give us a shout.

Common themes? “What a year it’s been!” and plaudit for Lars Marius Garshol’s excellent book.


Finally, from Twitter, there’s this, which you’ll either get, or you won’t:

For more good reading, check out Alan McLeod’s round-ups from Thursday – from the past three Thursdays, in fact.