When did pub quizzes become a thing?

We had a vague idea that the pub quiz was a product of the 1980s or 90s and so were surprised to come across the headline above in a newspaper from the early 1960s.

Here’s the opening of the story which appeared in the Daily Mirror for 7 July 1961:

BIG Jim Traynor, a pint of beer at his elbow, settled down in a corner of a Liverpool tap-room, opened a packet of crisps, and began to study an encyclopaedia. Across the table, Charlie Vipond, from the local gasworks, eagerly flicked through the pages of Whitaker’s Almanack. ‘Hey, mate,’ he shouted, ‘what year did Henry VIII lop off Anne Boleyn’s head?’ No one batted an eyelid. It was just part of the latest pub craze… QUIZ MANIA.

The article mentions ‘J. Robinson’ as one of the organiser of the Merseyside quiz league and mentions a ‘big hotel in Bootle’ as a nexus of quizzing activity.

Another piece from a little later (Liverpool Echo, 30 October 1963) provides more detail, including pinpointing the year of origin to 1959:

There’s no business on Merseyside, it would seem, quite like quiz business… For since it all started in a public house in Bootle four years ago there are estimated to be at least 4,000 people involved in the Merseyside Quiz Leagues… These consist of four leagues organising general knowledge quizzes in pubs, clubs and factory canteens.

‘It’s a jolly good way of enjoying yourself – and learning at the same time,’ said one of the men who has been on the Merseyside quiz scene since it started – Mr Jack Robinson [of] 108 Galsworthy Avenue, Bootle… ‘We’ve been on television,’ he told me proudly, ‘and radio too.’

It all started because of a chance remark, he says, made by a Mr. Eric Powell, 106 Gloucester Road, Bootle, one night at the Mount Hotel, Bootle… ‘We had been having a lot of friendly quizzes among ourselves,’ said Mr Robinson, ‘but when Mr. Powell suggested that it could be operated on a wider scale everyone seemed to think it was a good idea.’

So the first Merseyside Quiz League was formed, and a list of rules compiled. It was not long before there were four leagues – ‘stretching from Southport to Speke’.

It also gives us the names of some key personnel: Bill Brady, licensee of The Mount, was the quiz league’s chairman; Jim Howard was the quizmaster, also of Bootle; and the secretary was Harry Jackson, ‘an administrative railway officer from Garston’.

Now, this could just be a case of people, probably quite innocently, taking credit for a spontaneously emerging phenomenon, so we won’t quite go as far as to say Eric Powell invented the pub quiz, or that the Mount Hotel was where it was born.

But, still, all the earliest mentions in the newspapers do point to Merseyside/Lancashire and, in lieu of any other claims, let’s say this is the best origin story we have for the moment.

Arthur Taylor, author of the essential reference on pub games, Played at the Pub, seems to agree with the idea that Bootle was ground zero.

He also suggests that the emergence of pub quizzes was tied to the increasing popularity of TV, and especially American-inspired commercial television. He points out that both Double Your Money and Take Your Pick first aired on ITV in 1955.

An additional twist, though, is that among the small trickle of 1960s television programmes that sought to evoke the spirit of the pub there was one inspired by pub quizzing specifically.

Quiz Time Gentlemen Please first aired in March 1968, with a team from The St. Helier’s Arms, Carshalton battling against a crew from The Elm Park Hotel, Hornchurch.

It was hosted by Keith Fordyce, and featured a mix of darts and quiz questions – so, Bullseye, basically, 20 years before Bully was a twinkle in Jim Bowen’s eye.

It goes without saying that if you’re related to any of the Bootle blokes mentioned above and can tell us more about the origins of the pub quiz, we’d love to hear from you. Or if you have memories of pub quizzing from the 1960s or 70s.

Gin palaces in Manchester: blessed gaudiness

As you might expect, when it comes to writing about gin palaces, London seems to hog the limelight, but they popped up all across England in the early 19th century, including Manchester.

Without Dickens to write about them or Cruikshank to draw them, the records are more sparse, but they do exist. And, once again, we owe disapproving temperance types a debt of gratitude for their information gathering, biased as it might be.

For example, here’s a summary of the situation from Manchester in 1844: Its Present Condition and Future Prospects by the French economist Léon Faucher who visited England on a study tour in the mid-1840s, with paragraph breaks added for easier online reading:

Only twenty years ago, drunkenness was considered a degrading indulgence; the dramshops were in retired places, and their customers entered secretly by private doors; and a candle placed behind the window was the dubious sign to arrest the attention of the passer-by.

But now, drunkenness has infused itself into the bosom of society. Habit has conquered shame, and that which formerly drew a blush from the men is now regarded as a daily habit by women and children.

By degrees, the dim lights have been replaced by the dazzling gas; the doors have been enlarged; the pot-house has become a gin-shop; and the gin-shop a species of palace.

The games hitherto carried on in these places not being sufficient, the proprietors have added music, dancing, and exhibitions, as additional attractions to a dissolute people. Formerly, concerts were held in these places only in the winter, but now they extend throughout the year; and, as in Liverpool, so here, the swelling of the organ, and the sounds of the violin and the piano, resound in their large saloons.

One of these houses, situated not far from the Exchange, and at the entrance to Victoria Bridge, collects in this manner, one thousand persons, every evening, until eleven PM. On Sundays, to diminish the scandal, religious hymns and sacred music are performed upon the organ and piano.

We can’t work out exactly which establishment is being described here but a quick look at this much later map, from 1888, suggests plenty of candidates – P.H. here, P.H. there, P.H.s everywhere. Whatever was previously on the site of The Grosvenor seems most likely.

Map of Manchester with many public houses.

In 1845, an American observer using the pseudonym ‘Looker On’ set out just how common gin palaces were in Manchester at that time:

To form any just idea of the magnitude of Manchester, and of the character of its population, it should be entered towards evening.

Then every mill is illuminated, and as their countless windows blaze forth, they present a brilliant spectacle. The black walls are no longer seen, and the canopy of smoke which overhangs all is no longer distinguishable by the eye.

At the corners of nearly all the principal streets are gaudy buildings, with enormous lamps, and into these Gin Palaces, as they are called, a continual stream of living beings enter.

And oh! what a wretched procession! Old men and little children, drabbish women and young girls; youths of besotted appearance, and men in the very flower of life, bowed down to the dust, energies quenched, strength prostrated, minds half destroyed.

Benjamin Love’s 1842 book The Handbook of Manchester gives us another couple of interesting nuggets, wrapped up in a lot of temperance hyperbole:

From an observation made on [Sunday] the 13th March, 1842, by the writer’s direction, there were found to enter one dram-shop only, in this town, the astonishing number of 484 persons in one hour! The greater part were women! Some decently dressed, apparently the wives of mechanics; others almost naked, carrying in their arms a squalid infant. When wives frequent gin-palaces, no wonder their husbands, on leaving work, proceed straight to the beer house.

Assuming we credit Mr Love’s figure, that means these places were undeniably busy. It also suggests a clear gender divide between types of establishment. Beerhouses were the antithesis of the gin palace – generally small and plain.

Here’s a bit more from ‘Looker On’ describing the scene inside a Manchester gin palace:

Behind a bar, decorated richly with carvings and brass work, multiplied by numerous mirrors, in costly frames, with three or four showy-looking, and flashily attired females, occupied incessantly in drawing from enormous casks, gaudily painted in green and gold, and bearing seducing names, glasses of spirits, which are eagerly clutched by the trembling fingers of those who crowd round the counter, gasping as if for breath, for the stimulus of drink. Look at their red, half-raw lips; their glaring lack-lustre eyes…

Right, well, that’s enough of that, but the description of the fixtures and fittings seems accurate.

Glitter and grandeur aside, they were by no means genteel places, as this note of a criminal case from 1847 makes clear:

Yesterday, at the Borough Court, before Mr. Maude, a fellow employed… about the Bowdun and Altrincham coach office named John Hampson, was charged with robbing a gentleman from Preston, of his purse and eighteen sovereigns.

It appeared that on Monday evening, the prosecutor who had come here on business, got ‘a little over the line,’ and being determined, as it seemed to have jolly good spree, and see life in Manchester, he bent his steps towards gin palace in Deansgate.

There, on the strength of his well-filled purse he was received by the company present as ‘a real good fellow,’ and very speedily his excessive liberality became apparent, as he insisted on standing treat for everybody.

When the hour for closing the vaults arrived, he was just in the height of his glory, and nowise inclined to go to bed, when the prisoner and some of his friends kindly offered to find him with quarters, provided he would pay for a supply of liquor.

Accordingly, he accompanied the parties to a house in Back Queen-street, where gallons of ale, quarts of rum, &c. &c. were sent for pretty freely, until overpowered with strong drink the Preston gentleman fell asleep, and on awaking found that he was minus his purse and eighteen sovereigns.

An 1857 guidebook to Manchester and Salford singles out the gin palaces of Ancoats for particular attention:

The oldest and the worst working district of Manchester, is the region known as Ancoats. Here, however, you will find the truest specimens of the indigenous Lancashire population, and hear the truest version of the old Anglo-Saxon pronunciation… Ancoats, in fact, is Manchester pur sang – Manchester ere sanitary improvement and popular education had raised and purified its general social condition.

Many of its streets, particularly the great thoroughfare called the Oldham Road, are magnificent in their vast proportions; but the thousands of by-lanes and squalid courts, the stacked-up piles of undrained and unventilated dwellings, swarm with the coarsest and most dangerous portions of the population. Here the old and inferior mills abound; here the gin-palaces are the most magnificent, and the pawn-shops the most flourishing; here, too, the curse of Lancashire-the ‘low Irish ’ – congregate by thousands; and here, principally, abound the cellar dwellings,and the pestilential lodging-houses, where thieves and vagrant; of all kinds find shares of beds in underground recesses for a penny and twopence a night.

Another source, also from 1855, paints a vivid picture of the contrast between the Ancoats gin palaces and their surroundings:

Returning from the Christmas treat of the St. John’s Industrial Ragged School, in company with the energetic and intelligent master of the New Ragged School in Angel Meadow, Ancoats, I met numbers of poor wretched looking children, in groups, round the corners of low streets and public-house doors, where the numerous gas lamps inside threw a gleam of light across the road, and the opening and shutting of the door of the magnificent gin palace gave a cheerfulness and bustle to a very dull and dirty street.

On the step of one public-house, a little girl, herself o about six years old, was nursing a pale and delicate infant not six months old, or rather just letting it lie over her knees. The mother was, in all probability, inside, spending her last copper; the rain was pouring, and it was past nine o’clock.

Finally, Elizabeth Gaskell’s 1848 novel Mary Barton: a tale of Manchester Life mentions gin palaces and pubs in passing in a couple of places, including confirmation of the obvious appeal of places ”where all is clean and bright, and where th’ fire blazes cheerily, and gives a man a welcome as it were”.

What we can’t work out – not easily, anyway – is if there are any surviving early 19th century gin palaces in Manchester today. There are plenty of wonderful historic pubs but most, such as The Marble Arch and Crown & Kettle, are late 19th century or early 20th century buildings.

On that, local intelligence would be welcome.

The temptation of the gin palace door, 1844

An essay by Irish writer John Fisher Murray from 1844 gives us yet another portrait of the gin palace. And, as is often the case, through the veil of temperance disapproval, there are some evocative details to be enjoyed.

For example, haven’t we all come across inviting, tempting pub doors like this?

The doors are large, swinging easily upon patent hinges, and ever half-and-half—half open, half shut, so that the most undecided touch of the dram-drinker admits him. The windows are of plateglass, set in brass sashes, and are filled with flaming announcements, in large letters, ‘The Cheapest House In London,’— ‘Cream Of The Valley,’—‘Creaming Stout,’—‘Brilliant Ales,’—‘Old Tom, fourpence a quartern,’ — ‘Hodges’ Best, for mixing,’ and a variety of other entertainments for the men and beasts who make the gin-palace their home. At night splendid lights irradiate the surrounding gloom, and an illuminated clock serves to remind the toper of the time he throws away in throwing away his reason.

The other line that leaps out there is ‘Creaming Stout’ – a foreshadowing of the marketing that would arise around Guinness draught stout more than a hundred years later. It turns out this was a fairly common descriptor throughout the nineteenth century; here’s one example from 1855:

Creaming Ripe Porter, Treble Creaming Stout
SOURCE: Friend of India and Statesman, 20 September 1855, via the British Newspaper Archive.

Creaming Ripe Porter! Treble Creaming Stout! Bring these beer names back, somebody. (Not now, obviously.)

But let’s step back and look at the lie of the land – where would you find a gin palace? And what face does it present to the street?

Good eating deserves good drinking; and, if you have the wherewithal, you need assuredly not remain many minutes either hungry or dry. In London, the public-house is always either next door but two, or round the next corner, or over the way… The gin-palace… is generally at the corner of two intersecting streets, in a gin-drinking neighbourhood; it lowers, in all the majesty of stucco pilasters, in genuine cockney splendour, over the dingy mansions that support it, like a rapacious tyrant over his impoverished subjects.

Right, now it’s time to slip through that light-touch door and see what’s going on inside:

Within, the splendour is in keeping with the splendour without; counters fitted with zinc, and a long array of brass taps; fittings of the finest Spanish mahogany, beautifully polished; bottles containing cordials, and other drugs, gilded and labelled, as in the apothecaries’ shops. At one side is the bar-parlour, an apartment fitted up with congenial taste, and usually occupied by the family of the publican; in the distance are vistas, and sometimes galleries, formed altogether of huge vats of the various sorts of liquor dispensed in the establishment.

The intriguing detail here is the bar-parlour. We’ve only ever encountered one of these in real life, at the Bridge Inn in Topsham, Devon. That example is a cosy little domestic room with a fireplace and armchairs (we think, from memory) where the landlady occasionally invites favourite regulars to sit.

It’s funny to think of a family living in a gin palace, or at least the kind of den of debauchery depicted in Victorian literature and art.

Now we get a look at the customers and, of course, an obligatory glance towards the sexy barmaids:

Behind the counter, which is usually raised to a level with the breasts of the topers, stand men in their shirt-sleeves, well-dressed females, or both, dispensers of the ‘short’ and ‘heavy;’ the under-sized tipplers, raising themselves on tiptoe, deposit the three-halfpence for the ‘drop’ of gin, or whatever else they require, and receive their quantum of the poison in return; ragged women, with starveling children, match and ballad-vendors, fill up the foreground of the picture. There are no seats, nor any accommodation for the customers in the regular gin-palace; every exertion is used to make the place as uncomfortable to the consumers as possible, so that they shall only step in to drink, and pay; step out, and return to drink and pay again. No food of any kind is provided at the gin-palace, save a few biscuits, which are exhibited in a wire-cage, for protection against the furtive hand; drink, eternal, poisonous drink, is the sole provision of this whited sepulchre.

“Whited sepulchre!” we both cried, being of the generation that read Conrad’s Heart of Darkness for GCSE English. It must be from the Bible or Shakespeare, then, we thought, and sure enough, it’s from Matthew 23:27:

Woe unto you… for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness…

Oof! The gin palace as Biblical symbol.

This theme is continued in the next passage which, judgemental or not, gives us some fascinating, vivid details:

There is not in all London a more melancholy and spirit-depressing sight than the area of one of the larger gin-palaces on a wet night. There, the homeless, houseless miserables of both sexes, whether they have money or not, resort in numbers for a temporary shelter; aged women selling ballads and matches, cripples, little beggar-boys and girls, slavering idiots, piemen, sandwich-men, apple and orange-women, shell-fishmongers, huddled pell-mell,in draggle-tailed confusion.

Pies, sandwiches, shellfish… Almost two centuries on, this is still the essence of pub grub. We can’t say we’ve ever had the urge to buy an apple or an orange down the boozer, though.

Well, fun as this brief visit has been, it’s probably time we pulled our lapels up and went out into that bloody awful weather…

The noises, too, of the assembled topers are hideous; appalling even when heard in an atmosphere of gin. Imprecations, execrations, objurgations, supplications, until at length the patience of the publican, and the last copper of his customers, are exhausted, when, rushing from behind his counter, assisted by his shopmen, he expels, vi et armis, the dilatory mob, dragging out by the heels or collars the dead drunkards, to nestle, as best they may, outside the inhospitable door.

You can read Mr Fisher Murray’s essay in full in various places including his own 1845 collection The World of London. The main image is adapted from an engraving from The Working Man’s Friend and Family Instructor, 25 Oct 1851.

Molly Figgures’ 50 years in a Gloucestershire pub

Molly Figgures was born Gwendoline Mary Barrett in Blockley, on the Gloucestershire-Worcestershire border, in 1907. When she was a child, her father, Ernest Alfred, took over the running of the Bell Inn at Blockley where she would live and work for the next 50 years.

We’ve often lamented the dearth of first-hand accounts of pub life in the 20th century.

Fortunately for us, Molly was encouraged by local historian Norah Marshall to write down her stories of life at the Bell.

What she wrote was published under the cryptic title Over the Bones by Blockley Antiquarian Society in 1978.

These local history publications aren’t always riveting, let’s be honest. This one is genuinely brilliant, though, not because Molly is a great writer but because The Bell, and Blockley, sound… mad.

Consider these two paragraphs in which Molly recollects some of the regulars from her childhood days:

We had some delightful old age pensioners who were customers. There was ‘Shover’ Eden, he came along to fetch his paper and always called for a drink every morning, which was a pint of bitter. He said that The Bell was the Doctor’s surgery and he’d come for his medicine! There was Ted Beachey who had a half of bitter. His wife was the local midwife. She made humbugs and aniseed sweets which were in ‘pennyworths’ wrapped in newspaper. Often halfway through eating one you would find a dead wasp in the centre! Ted frequently brought some along for us. You had to get the newspaper off too before you could eat them. However, we did not mind so long as we had sweets to eat! I only had 1d a week to spend so being free they were very welcome.

There was also a Mr. Freeman and he had a tame fox which he brought with him. Fred Hitchman was a very regular customer in the evenings and he always smoked a pipe so of course he was honoured with a spittoon which he proudly had between his feet so that he could spit in comfort! It was not a very pleasant job to empty these spittoons and we had to buy sawdust by the sackful from Butlers saw-yard at Draycott to put in them. Sometimes the spittoons were turned into a form of entertainment when a well-known character, who had served in the Navy, would go down on his knees and slide them around the floor accompanied by an appropriate song. This was known as Holy Stoning.

So, to summarise, we’ve got boiled sweets with wasps in them, a tame fox, and curling with spittoons – this is some real folk horror stuff.

A man outside a pub
The Bell Inn, AKA The Bell Hotel, in around 1950, via Over the Bones.

She also describes various moments of arguing and fighting, including the occasion when ‘Badgie Mayo’ got into a scrap with another customer. Because Badgie had lost an arm in WWI, the other man agreed to tie an arm behind his back so their dust up in the pub garden would be fair.

The very best part might be her account of throwing out a customer who was rude to her mother:

He called my Mum by a name of which I disapproved, so I ordered him out and made him go and I followed him and told him never to come in again, and he didn’t.* My Mum said this was the first time she had seen “Our Moll” in a temper, which goes to show what one can do.

* He is dead now. I hope he went to the right place!

There are some lovely details about the evolution of the pub. First, there’s the installation of what Molly calls a ‘snug’ but which sounds more like what would usually be called a lounge, with an electric bellpush for service and a penny surcharge per drink.

Then there’s the acquisition, after World War II, of a television, which caused great excitement in the village. One local, Molly says, became a fixture at the pub, lingering for hours over a half so he could watch whatever was on. Until he got his own TV, that is, when he stopped coming to the pub altogether. If we’d made that up, you might think it was a bit heavy handed.

There’s some great stuff about booze, obviously, lots of it a reminder of the freedom a remote village offered when it came to obeying the letter of the law.

For example, Molly’s mother made rhubarb wine while Bert, Molly’s husband, produced plum. Strictly against the law, you could order your cider ‘with’ and get a shot of wine added to the glass to give it extra oomph.

(Again, mixing and blending was absolutely normal until quite recently; it’s not a weird modern development.)

As for beer…

All the beer was drawn from the wood and it was twenty walking steps each way to the cellar to fetch each drink so of course some was spilt and sometimes my Mum would spill more than usual and there was usually someone who complained; but on the whole people were very good. Some would say “Mrs., my glass ain’t full” so my Mum would take a swig out of the glass and say “It is full now” and no more was said. I could carry four full glasses with handles in each hand and not spill much. My Mum refused to put pumps in until 1951 when my brother talked her into having them. Then she said that she wished she had had them installed years before! Unfortunately she only lived for two years after so she did not benefit much… Sometimes a customer would say the beer was flat, and Kate (my Mum) would take it back to the cellar to “change it” and all she did was make another head on it and take it back and the customer would say “Ah! that’s better” – So what!

That last point is yet more evidence of the confusion between foamy beer and beer in good condition.

One of the appendices provides a list of nicknames for pub regulars including Buffud, Chicken, Grunter, Gubbins, Jambox, Sneezer, Waggy and Yatty. Molly’s husband, Bert, was known as Pur-Pur because he had a stammer.

And the title? In 1970, after Molly’s retirement, the pub was converted into four flats and during building work, two skeletons were found beneath the floor. “It was fun really,” writes Molly: “I kept meeting people who pulled my leg and said they didn’t think I was like that!” The bones turned out to be of medieval origin, of course.

If you want to read more, Molly’s text is available as part of a collection called A Third Blockley Miscellany at £6.50 from Blockley Heritage Society.

You can’t judge a pub on one visit

One of the reasons we are doing #EveryPubInBristol is because we did #EveryPubInPenzance and discovered that we couldn’t always judge a pub from the way it looked.

We like to think we know pubs reasonably well and there were five pubs in Penzance that just never appealed based on the way they presented.

We decided to go to them all before we left and we found that one was much better than we’d expected and was added into our regular route; three were actually fine; and only one was genuinely bad. And because of our general interest in the history and culture of pubs, almost everywhere had something for us to observe or learn from, good or bad.

However, 252 pubs into our Bristol mission, we’ve started to question whether one visit is really enough for some pubs. So much of what makes up an experience in a pub is transitory – the staff who were on, the other punters during your visit – before you even get into what the beer tastes like, changes to the decor, and so on.

When pubs get refurbished and new managers take over, we do try to make an effort to revisit as this kind of thing can drastically change a place. But other changes might be more subtle – perhaps we visited during the day when there’s a calm older crowd and missed the fact it has a DJ and dancing on a Saturday night. Perhaps we visited on a particularly rainy or sunny day when the usual crowd stayed at home or went to the park. Perhaps the bartender who made us feel so welcome left for another job a week later and the place just isn’t as friendly now.

We think this is why it’s easier to judge places that have an identifiable guv’nor or guv’nors – that their personality, for good or worse, sets a fairly consistent tone for the place. And you can tell a lot by the regulars that they gather around them and the behaviours that are and aren’t allowed.

In contrast, the hardest places to form a view on are often managed houses, where staff and management turn over constantly. It’s hard enough to imprint a personality over what the pubco or brewery has decided is the in look this season (usually several years out of date) even when you do have a steady team.

There’s a pub between our house and the centre of town which constantly switches between being a decent pub with acceptable food and drink to a complete kitchen and cellar nightmare. We end up visiting every six months to see what phase it’s in. To be fair, we probably wouldn’t bother at all if it wasn’t on our way home.

This of course is where a good local CAMRA branch comes in useful, particularly if members are attuned to factors beyond beer quality – it’s great to get local intelligence on which pubs have changed hands recently and a hint as two whether the change is for the better, or the worse.

We suppose, in a roundabout way, what we’re saying is that pubs are like living things. That’s great news if you like exploring pubs because over the course of five years, 250 pubs might equate to 1,000 pubs, in terms of the experience of visiting them.

And another thought: perhaps this is why pubs that don’t change – that can resist it for, say, 20 years or more – feel so special.

News, nuggets and longreads 8 February 2020: opening hours, pricing, the Phil

Here’s everything on beer and pubs that grabbed our attention in the past week from historic pubs to hazy IPA.

First, a bit of news: Laura Hadland has been announced as the author of a new official history of CAMRA. We know they’re keen for this to be an objective, challenging account that acknowledges downs as well as ups and can’t wait to see what she comes up with. She’s after insight and memories from people involved in the Campaign and, indeed, those very much not involved in the campaign, so do follow her on Twitter @Morrighani and drop her a line if you’ve got something to contribute.


Philharmonic Dining Rooms

This week saw the release of the now annual announcement from Historic England of which pubs have been listed, or had their list status upgraded. The headliner this year is The Philharmonic in Liverpool which has been upgraded to Grade I, “making it the first purpose-built Victorian pub in England to be given the highest level of designation for a historic building”:

Regarded as a ‘cathedral among pubs’ for its opulence, the Philharmonic was one of the most spectacular pubs to be completed at the end of the 19th century, known as the ‘golden age’ of pub building. It now joins the top 2.5% of protected historic buildings in England such as Buckingham Palace, Chatsworth House and Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral Church of Christ in gaining the highest listed status.

We visited when we were researching 20th Century Pub and were blown away. We keep sending friends there and getting messages that say, in so many words, “Wow”. So, yes, this makes sense to us.


Closed sign on shop.

Mark Johnson is annoyed at retail outlets that don’t open when he’s ready to spend money. This is part of a wider debate about the hours the staff and owners of beer businesses work that kicked off on Beer Twitter over Christmas:

Like high street shops opening to utilise the Boxing Day sale rush, I couldn’t understand why small businesses wouldn’t want to take advantage of this busiest time of year. But of course, suggesting such radical thought makes me selfish and “uncaring of worker’s mental wellbeing.” Aye. Okay… Which is why I take slow sips from my cup of tea when those same pubs/bars that were shut late December start the year with the wonderful TRYANUARY spiel. Support your local business. Support the Beer Industry. A pub isn’t just for Christmas. No, true, but you weren’t open at flipping Christmas time were you when I was there to support you so what do I possibly owe you now?


Cash Money Pound Signs.

As Dave S wearily sighs, “it looks like the ‘expensive beer’ discourse is back.” He’s responding to this by Tony Naylor but takes, as ever, a measured stance:

I quite like fancy, expensive beers, and I know that many of the things that I like in fancy beers – mixed fermentation, barrel aging, high gravity, expensive hops – add to the cost of the beer… I also like cheap, good beer. I like the fact that beer is an everyday drink, something that large swathes of the population can share and bond over as a routine matter… A lot of the current discussion is about choosing one of these to the exclusion of the other, but like a lot of people, I don’t see any reason that we can’t have both.


A quote from the article.
SOURCE: Good Beer Hunting/Cooper Foszcz.

For Good Beer HuntingLuke Robertson has dug into what it’s really like to be working at a brewery when it gets taken over by a multinational:

Lachlan Barter is a state sales manager for Green Beacon Brewing Co. in Brisbane, Australia. In 2019, it was announced that Green Beacon would be sold to Asahi, but stories of a prospective sale had dragged on for years. Everyone knew, or thought they knew, what was going to happen—and everyone wanted his confirmation.

“It was a rumor for almost two years. You hear rumors—some have weight in them, some don’t have weight in them,” Barter says. “More and more people started bringing it up. Really random people as well. At the time [of the sale], it was a sigh of relief. No more rumors. I don’t have to deal with that anymore.”


Detail from a vintage India Pale Ale beer label.

 

At Beervana Jeff Alworth has been grappling with how to classify IPAs for a new edition of his book The Beer Bible. What his thinking aloud reveals is how different things are now compared to a decade ago:

It’s impossible to create categories of mutually-exclusive IPAs because a double IPA, for example, may be hazy or not, but this is my best first draft:

  • West Coast IPAs. Basically as close to the standard IPA as we have.
  • New England (or Hazy) IPAs
  • Flavored IPAs. (Will include white, fruit, and milkshake IPAs)
  • Strong IPAs
  • Session IPAs and Pale Ales
  • Brett and Sour IPAs
  • Specialty IPAs (will include black, red, Belgian, and brut IPAs)

Finally, from Twitter, there’s this picture which really brings home how big interwar pubs were compared to those they replaced:


If you’re hungry, or should we say thirsty, for more good beer reading, check out Alan’s round-up from Thursday and Carey’s from yesterday.

Pickled Egg, Blade Bone, Swedish Crowns: London pub names in the 19th century

George Dodd’s The Food of London is something of an overlooked gem published in 1856. Among many other passages worthy of attention in their own right, there’s a fantastic rundown of the naming of London pubs.

It’s great for three reasons:

  • Where other writers might have skimmed the surface, Dodd provides a detailed list of London pub names with a count of how many there are of each type.
  • It highlights some genuinely bizarre names that we’d have thought were made up if we’d encountered them in fiction.
  • There’s a certain wit and poetry in his writing that makes a list amusing.

First, though, there’s a bit about the sheer volume of pubs in London at this time, in the wake of the 1830 Licensing Act:

In relation to the metropolis only, the number of public-houses is of course enormous — intended, as they are, to supply malt-liquor to two million and a half of drinkers. In London, the licensed victuallers are probably about 4500; while the beer-sellers are somewhat over half this number — very likely 7000 altogether, equal to one in about every 45 houses, or one to 350 inhabitants.

If you’re interested, the full text provides further detail of the numbers of pubs, and pubs per household, for various districts, such as Norton Folgate.

The number of pubs is what drives the variety of names Dodd records – if you’ve only got one pub in the village, The Red Lion will do. If there are ten pubs on the street, you’d better start thinking about a ‘distinctive brand’ that will provide ‘differentiation’.

Because, as we say above, the writing has wit and rhythm, we’ve presented the pub passage presented complete, below, with paragraph breaks and small edits for ease of reading.

Our advice: read it aloud to really catch the poetry of it.

The public-houses of London are as motley an assemblage as can well be imagined — so far as signs are concerned. We find among them about 70 royal dukes – Cambridge, Clarence, Cumberland, Gloucester, Sussex, and York; a few royal duchesses; 60 or 70 Georges and George the Fourths; Victorias and Royal Alberts in great abundance; 80 Crowns and 20 Crown and Anchors; 70 King’s Arms and 90 King’s Heads; 20 Queen’s Arms and 50 Queen’s Hèads.

Next comes a menagerie of extraordinary animals – 30 Green Men, with or without Stills, Bells, and French Horns; 120 Lions – red, white, blue, or black; 25 Black Horses, and 45 White; 70 White Harts; 55 Swans, black or white as the case may be – and so forth.

Then we have a series of couplets – 55 Coach and Horses; 25 Horse and Grooms; 55 Rose and Crowns; and numerous Ships, combined in an extraordinary way with Blue Balls, Blue Coat Boys, Punchbowls,‘Rising Suns, Shears and Shovels.

The system of numeration has been carried out by the licensed victuallers more fully than they themselves, perhaps, are aware; for we shall find One Tun, Two Bells, Three Suns, Four Swans, Five Pipes, Six Cans, Seven Stars, Eight Bells, Nine Elms, Ten Bells, and Twelve Bells: let any enterprising publican hit upon Eleven something – Cricketers, Virgins, or what not – and the duodecimal system will be complete. Some numbers are great favourites, especially number three, which develops itself in all the varieties of Three Brewers and Three Colts; three each of Compasses, Cranes, Cups, Doves, Elms, Foxes, Goats, Hats, Herrings, Horseshoes and Johns; Three Jolly Bakers, Three Jolly Butchers, and Three Jolly Gardeners; Three Kings, Three Loggerheads and Three Lords (three loggerheads between three kings and three lords might appear sarcastic, were not the order of the alphabet alone responsible); three Mariners, Merry Boys, Neats’ Tongues, Nuns, Pigeons, Spies, Sugar-loaves, Stags, Suns, Swedish Crowns and Wheat Sheaves.

A wonderful display of tapsters’ ingenuity occurs in such signs as Blade Bone, Coffee-pot, Essex Serpent, Knave of Clubs, Lilliput Hall, Naked Boy and Woolpack, Old Centurion, Pickled Egg, Prospect of Whitby, Tippling Philosopher, Widow’s Son, Valiant Trooper, Sun in Splendour, Running Footman, Experienced Fowler, Good Man, Kentish Wag and World Turned Upside Down.

Phew!

Can you believe there was ever really a pub called The Pickled Egg? Or The Three Spies? Or the bloody Blade Bone!?

Well, there was a Blade Bone trading in Bethnal Green as recently as 2000, demolished in 2016, according to WhatPub.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, it was popular with skinheads in the 1970s.

If you tried to name a pub that now, we suspect the licencing authorities would attempt to discourage it.

But we’d be quite excited to drink at The Tippling Philosopher if anyone fancies reviving that.

Main image: Cowcross Street c.1870 via the Survey of London.

A Frenchman visits a gin palace, 1873

In early 1873, English newspapermen were amused to discover that the French critic and novelist Alphonse Karr had been writing about London gin palaces for Le Figaro.

Karr is these days best known for epigrams such as “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose” – the more things change, the more they stay the same. We’ll confess we’d never heard of him at all until we came across a mention of him in an article in the British Newspaper Archive.

Fortunately, thanks to the magic of online digital archives, it’s fairly easy to read a version of Karr’s original text as collected in an 1876 anthology of his writing.

Here’s our attempt at tidying up Google’s automatic translation:

Let’s talk about cabarets and cafes.

This must be dealt with from three points of view, one of which is completely modern and contemporary.

The first point is drunkenness, its hideousness, its dangers; the second, the thefts, the tricks and the poisonings practiced by certain merchants; the third, the application of cabaret and coffee to street politics – or rather to agitation, to the spread of false or exaggerated ideas, to the poisoning of minds.

It seems that to see drunkenness in all its horrible stupidity, in England you have to visit the shops, the palaces, dedicated to it – gin shops, or gin palaces.

A flood of ragged beings move incessantly towards the temple, on the door of which shine, on large copper plates, the words gin, beer, spirits – that is to say, forgetfulness, absence stupor.

A room a hundred feet long, all furnished on one side with huge barrels painted in various colors, with portraits of the queen in between.

In front of the barrels, a long counter or bar and many waiters constantly busy pouring. In the crowd, there are as many women as men and women are often, in fact, in the majority.

We approach the bar, money in hand with a sort of dumb reverence, as if we were going to receive communion; in a low voice, gin or spirits are asked for; the glass, not filled until the waiter has received the money, is accepted in silence and with an icy seriousness; then we will sit on a long bench leaning against the wall in front of the barrels; here we remain motionless, silent, in a sort of ecstasy and contemplation of the barrels; a little later we rummage in our pockets and count our money; we return to the bar, we drink and we return to the bench, from where we return to the bar; and always thus as long as there is money.

Everyone knows how rigorously the sabbath is observed in England – any distraction is strictly prohibited; the only exception is the gin shop. It is enough that they should look closed, but you only have to push the door to enter. The State and Church seem to believe that there would be danger in leaving one day per week free of that awful misery – one day when people don’t forget and fall asleep like brutes.

The British take on his story was perhaps understandably arch: this daft foreigner didn’t understand how pubs worked and, worse, was some sort of temperance advocate. Here’s how it was reported in a syndicated story that appeared in numerous newspapers on and around 9 January 1873:

Not a word for the neat-handed Phyllises behind the counter. This is hardly courteous on the part French litterateurs, who are fond of ogling them when they do come here… M. Alphonse Karr a very remarkable man; one time, it we remember right, he even aspired to the dignity of citoyen, but has ever been animated with a strong dislike of perfidious islanders. It is very clear that he has never heard the Licensing Act.

Those barmaids again!

We wonder if any more confident French speakers than us might be able to dig out more accounts of English pubs and drinking culture. For example, this advice looks intriguing:

L’intérieur de ces établissements si nombreux présente quelque intérêt en ce qu’il explique la société anglaise. Il y a d’abord la salle du comptoir (bar-room), sorte de terrain neutre sur lequel des hommes et des femmes debout se rencontrent pour étancher leur soif aux flots d’ambre liquide…

A gap where the pubs should be

Our exploration of Bristol has been biased towards the north where we live so, in an effort to address that, we decided to take a bus as far south as possible and then walk back.

Or at least, that was the intention, but we were seduced by the sexy new Metro Bus M1 with its phone chargers and free wi-fi so ended up in Hengrove Park, which isn’t quite as far south as Bristol goes. It’s still terra very much incognita for us, though.

Preliminary research indicated we probably wouldn’t find much in the way of targets for #EveryPubInBristol.

We expected a lot of Sizzling Horse chain pubs in retail parks, then a bit of a gap before getting back into the much more heavily-pubbed areas of Bedminster and Totterdown.

We began at The Wessex Flyer, a Brewer’s Fayre attached to a Premier Inn, on the other side of Hengrove Park from the shiny new hospital and college. It pleasingly over-delivered, managing to feel more pub-like than The Bristol Concorde and with Proper Job on in decent condition.

Why did this one feel more like a pub?

Possibly because there was a partition for eating (‘Please wait to be seated’) which concentrated the drinkers in one corner. There were only a few punters in, watching the football mostly, but they were gathered together which made it feel more lively. The staff were also way more pleasant than they had any need to be – human beings who talked to us like human beings.

We then went for a long walk across the pub desert that is Knowle West.

Continue reading “A gap where the pubs should be”

Unexpected pubs are the best pubs

This is probably the time to admit publicly that as well as doing #EveryPubinBristol, I have a related mission to visit Every Street in Bristol.

It’s a great way to really get to know our new(ish) home and discover unexpected delights such as an Edward VIII postbox, Roman road remains, suburban substations built to resemble 1930s detached houses, Victorian urinals, municipal murals – you get the idea.

I’d like to pretend it’s something to do with psychogeography and liminal spaces but it’s actually much more to do with my completist tendencies. Anyway, there you go. Confession made.

This is background to explain why, the day after our Filton jaunt, we went out for a walk aimed at ticking streets rather than pubs. Because we felt we’d done our duty the previous day, and because of general seasonal overindulgence, I thought it would be a good opportunity to head into an area I expected to be a pub desert – the 1930s hinterlands between Westbury-on-Trym (AKA ‘WOT’) and Stoke Park.

Experience, and all that research I did into early 20th century town planning and licensing for 20th Century Pub, tells us that these sorts of areas tend to have either no pubs at all, or very large ones at major junctions.

As per my plan, we went through the centre of Westbury-on-Trym, and turned up a large suburban avenue. I had literally just said to Ray, “One thing we won’t find out here will be any pubs,” when we rounded the corner and saw not one but two pub signs close together, blowing in the wind. At a glance, both appeared to be modest sized boozers advertising real ale among other things.

Prince of Wales.

We visited The Prince of Wales first, which had lovely George’s livery outside and inside, and reminded us of a backstreet London pub, perhaps in somewhere like Ealing.

There’s the outline of a two-bar layout arranged around a corner entrance, and although the partitions are long gone, it still felt cosy.

Two small bar areas with a reasonable number of customers make a place feel busy. It’s a Butcombe house, and the Butcombe bitter was nothing short of superb.

Excitingly (for us) there was also Timothy Taylor Landlord, in equally excellent condition. The beer was so good that we downloaded the CAMRA Good Beer Guide App to rate it.

We clinked glasses, delighted in the discovery and baffled as to why we hadn’t heard of this place. We would have stayed for more but there was another pub to visit, as well as some vague hope of getting back to ticking streets while the daylight lasted.

The Black Swan was perhaps cosier again –  more like a village pub, with two small, packed front rooms and a larger (empty) space out the back. The beer wasn’t as exciting but was decent enough and the general mix of people coming and going was fun.

While we were there, we had a look at the excellent National Library of Scotland geo-referenced map of the area to see if we could determine why there appeared to be a village inn in the middle of 1930s suburbia. Sure enough, we found that we were on a little island of an older settlement, unnamed as far as we could tell, and that the Black Swan was marked on the 1880 map.

We also pondered the contrast with these two pubs with those we’d visited the day before at Filton. It seemed a good illustration of the point that it is easier to retain and create atmosphere and a sense of community in smaller pubs.

That is, regardless of the relative economic fortunes of Filton vs Westbury-on-Trym, the two WOT  pubs had the advantage of smaller size and more sympathetic design and seemed better suited to 21st century preferences.

Pubs that can make it past their first hundred years are more likely to survive in the long term.