The Reality of the Village Inn

Two old men in a village pub.

English village pubs are mythologised, romanticised and eulogised, but what are they actually like in the 21st century?

We’ve been tinkering with a version of this post for months but were prompted to finish and post it by this Tweet from an academic conference on drink and drinking:

The talk (as far as we can glean from Tweets) went on to mention the decreased centrality of the inn in village life even as its absolute centrality to the idea of the perfect village persists in popular culture. Hopefully we’ll get to read the finished study at some point but, for now, we thought we’d share a few observations of our own.

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News, Nuggets & Longreads 03 February 2018: Cole, CAMRA, Carlsberg

Here’s everything in writing about beer and pubs that grabbed our attention in the past week, from anger management to keg konfrontations.

The debate about sexism in beer has been a constant background noise as long as we’ve been blogging but seems to be reaching a head right now, in various positive ways. For example, at Good Beer HuntingMelissa Cole has written a long piece expressing what we suspect a lot of people have been thinking: passionate anger and ‘calling out’ over sexist beer branding clangers is understandable, and often feels like one of the few effective ways to drive change, but is it the best way in every case, and is it sustainable?

All I’m actually saying here is that perhaps we need to stop and think about what led these men, and sometimes women, to not being able to see how this artwork is unacceptable. Are these instances a chance to move the conversation on from merely calling out, and calling names, to a more genuine discourse about why sexist branding is damaging on so many levels? I hope so…. If we can encourage more empathy outside of privilege bubbles, encourage thought beyond what makes you laugh, seeking advice from groups that might be affected by your actions, if we can get acknowledgement that just our own life experiences are not the be all and end all, then that would be a huge start.

By way of a chaser, check out this piece by Alice at Alice Likes Beer reporting on a specific, awkward instance of weird behaviour occurring where else but in the crowd at a discussion about sexism at a beer festival.


Close-up of the CAMRA logo from the 1984 Good Beer Guide.

The Campaign for Real Ale’s Revitalisation project is also reaching a head and as the proposals are laid out and the big vote approaches (members can vote at the AGM, or by proxy) the pros and cons are being explored. Here’s a list of opinion pieces which might help you make up your mind, or alternatively give you ammo to back up what you already believe.

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Further Reading #3: Boddies and Opening Times at Manchester Library

Researching 20th Century Pub we spent time in some great libraries and archives with rich collections of pub- and beer-related material. This is the third in a series of blog posts intended to highlight great resources we hope you’ll go an look up yourself.

Manchester’s Central Library feat. Archives+, as we think it is formally called, is on St Peter’s Square opposite the famous Midland Hotel. It’s a grand building constructed in the 1930s but in classical style and is round with a dome. You’ll find most of the important stuff on the ground floor — not only reference material on open access but also the archive reading room.

We found accessing the archives a bit of a bureaucratic ordeal, if we’re honest. Newspapers on microfiche are available on site along with a certain number of reference texts but the stuff we were after — brewery records, local planning documents — had to be ordered well in advance, a few at at ime. That’s fine if you happen to live in Manchester but travelling from Penzance as we were at the time it was rather limiting. Still, the library staff could not have been more helpful, not least in pointing us to alternative sources for some documents such as this online archive of historic planning publications.

City of Manchester Plan, 1945

Via those off-site stacks we did manage to get access to some beautiful hand-drawn and coloured city planning maps the size of bedspreads, their text applied with stencils or rub-down lettering. They were a nightmare to handle and not actually all that much use in the end though there was certainly a thrill attached to seeing PUBLIC HOUSE or PH marked here or there. (See main picture, above.)

The best things we looked at — again, not much of which actually informed 20th Century Pub — were records from Boddington’s Brewery. Of course we looked up recipes in the brewing logs, though Ron Pattinson has done a much more thorough job of processing those since we tipped him off to their renewed availability. We also ploughed through board minute books which were crammed with fascinating details — notes on specific pubs and publicans, industrial accidents, local politicking and the birth of the national Beer is Best campaign in the 1930s, to name but a few. There are also lots of inserts like this:

Report on the 1966 hop crop.

Outside in the main reference library, into which you can wander from the street more or less whenever you like, for as long as you like, and help yourself to material from the shelves, there is a real treasure trove of useful stuff.

First there’s what would seem to be a complete set of the beer and pub history pamphlets published by Neil Richardson. Most are about the size and weight of a standard magazine and have the appearance of fanzines with coloured card covers, roughly reproduced photographs and word-processor-formatted text. The quality of the contents varies too but the best among them, e.g. The Old Pubs of Chorlton-upon-Medlock, are treasure troves of oral history and foraged fact. (Some are now available for Kindle at reasonable prices if you fancy a quick taster without travelling to Manchester.)

The Old Pubs of Ancoats

Then there’s the bound set of editions of the local Campaign for Real Ale magazine Opening Times running from 1994 to (we think) the present day. Manchester was an interesting place on the beer front in the 1990s with Brendan Dobbin’s pioneering experiments with New World hops, the birth and evolution of Marble, the coming of Mash & Air, and the arrival of the biggest pub in Britain. Opening Times recorded all this as it unfolded so that over the course of a few issues you can see, for example, advertisements for Dobbin’s ales followed by worrying reports of the health of the business and, finally, a notice of its closure. It was also rather startling to come across the article below among the pub crawl reports and tasting notes:

Headline: "THE BOMB".

Finally, there are numerous local history books and memoirs which, though not exclusively about pubs or beer, touch upon them at various points, often at length. We were particularly interested to discover Jeremy Seabrook’s 1971 book City Close Up which was based on interviews and conversations with people in Blackburn, Lancashire, during the summer of 1969. There are several sections touching on pubs and drink including one chapter called ‘Evening in the Wheatsheaf’ in which three young men, engineering apprentices, discuss ‘going out’:

ALAN: You start drinking when you’re about fifteen, pubs around [the centre of Blackburn], nobody stops you. There’s nowt else to do. When you first start drinking, you sup a right lot of shit, you don’t know what a good pint is. They’ll serve you anything, they’re just making their money out of you when you start.

And once you’re done with Manchester there’s always Bolton a short train ride away where you can find copies of the raw notes from the Mass Observation pub observation project of the late 1930s, or the Greenall Whitley papers at Chester.

Rigby’s Bier Keller, Liverpool, 1968

In the 1960s and 70s German-style beer cellars were all the rage in Britain popping up everywhere from Blackpool to central London, and Liverpool did not miss out on the trend.

We’ve touched on this subject a few times including in an article on theme pubs for CAMRA last year and in 20th Century Pub. Just recently we wrote a substantial article, also for CAMRA, which we expect to appear in the next issue of BEER magazine. This post, however, zooms in one one one example via an article in the in-house magazine of the Tetley Walker brewery group for autumn 1969.

Cover of the magazine.

Rigby’s on Dale Street is a famous Liverpool pub now run by Okell’s of the Isle of Man. In 1968, however, it was part of the Allied Breweries empire managed under as part of the Walker Cain sub-group. Just before Christmas that year Rigby’s newest feature, a Bierkeller, was unveiled in the low-beamed cellar:

Much of the character of the keller was already there, for the old cellars of Rigby’s still have their ancient flagstone floors, original cast iron stanchions and stone block walls… To this existing setting were added girls in traditional Bavarian costume to serve the drinks, long beech tables and benches — four tons of timber went into their making — German poster on the walls and two doors marked Damen and Herren.

The Keller

It’s sometimes hard to tell how seriously breweries took this kind of thing. Sometimes it seemed to be a sincere effort to evoke a German atmosphere — don’t forget, many British drinkers at this point had actually been to Germany thanks to the war and the subsequent cold war — while others were… less so. Rigby’s was certainly an example of the former perhaps because Liverpool in particular had strong German connections (think of the Beatles in Hamburg) and a fairly substantial reverse traffic with enough Germans in Liverpool to warrant their own church from 1960. There was also a permanent German consulate and it was the commercial attache, H.C. von Herwarth, who opened Rigby’s Bierkeller and “drew the first stein of lager”.

Revellers.
Opening night at Rigby’s Bierkeller. Those aren’t Bavarian hats.

But Rigby’s German-flavoured venture had another advantage: the licensee was one John Burchardt:

Mr Burchardt came to England as a prisoner of war in 1946. He worked on farms in this country and he liked living here so much that when he was released and was given the option of returning to his country…. he decided to come back and take a civilian job…. He married an English girl and Mr and Mrs Burchardt have a family of four boys.

A family photograph.
The Burchardts.

For once, we have been able to gather a bit more biographical information about the nameless spouse: Mrs Burchardt was called Edith and was born in Wales in 1932. The same source tells us that John was actually called Werner and was born in Dortmund but perhaps grew up in Danzig (now Gdańsk, Poland) which might be why he didn’t want to go home. And another perhaps: he may have ended up in Liverpool because of family connections as one Otto Burchardt was appointed consul to the King of Prussia in Liverpool in 1841 and was buried there when he died in 1882.

But, back to pubs: John Burchardt told the reporter for TW magazine that he didn’t see much difference between running a Bavarian Bierkeller and an English pub like the one upstairs. Here’s the public bar in a shot taken, we think, from just about exactly where we sat when we visited in 2016:

Pub interior

We don’t know yet what became of Rigby’s Bierkeller but, based on our research into others, we’d guess it slowly went downmarket and became less German before folding in the late 1970s. (The standard pattern.)

But if you know otherwise, or remember drinking there during its Germanicised phase, do comment below or drop us a line.

Notable Pubs: The White Knight, Crawley

We recently acquired a copy of The House of Whitbread for Spring 1958 — a magazine we had previously only seen bits of, in the form of photocopies, at the London Metropolitan Archive — with a short feature on a famous post-war pub.

The White Knight in Crawley, West Sussex, wasn’t by any means the first new pub built after World War II but nonetheless seems to have been considered something of a landmark when it was opened in October 1957. Indeed, the HoW article cites a BBC Home Service feature called Town and Country which apparently described it as ‘revolutionary in character and embodying many new ideas’. Architectural critic Ian Nairn loved it, too.

Exterior of the White Knight

There’s are photos of the exterior of the pub in almost every article about modern pubs from the 1950s and 60s but interior photos are less common so it’s good to see these:

Pub interior in mid-century modern style.
The Knight’s Taproom.
Pub with carpets and flowers.
The Knight’s Saloon

The inset fireplace! The atomic-age wall clock! Those striped curtains! The flying saucer light-fittings! We’ve never seen colour photographs and no indication of the colour scheme is recorded anywhere we can find but we have to assume there are some pastel shades in there.

Here’s the HoW account of what made the pub special:

There are two bars, the Knight’s Saloon and the Knight’s Taproom, and walls made almost entirely of glass divide them from the terrace which has wooden benches and tables screened by pergolas. The Knight’s Saloon also leads, again through glass walls, to a small paved garden at the side of the house. On weekdays from ten in the morning till half past ten at night a coffee room serves light refreshments, lunches, teas and soft drinks. It is linked by an open terrace where beer drinkers and coffee drinkers can freely mix. The design completely disregards the idea that drinking is a secret occupation to be screened from view by solid walls and obscured glass.

That all sounds, it must be said, thoroughly modern — very Hungry Horse or Flaming Grill.

Thought we didn’t make it to Crawley during research for 20th Century Pub we were pleased to find that it is still trading under the name The Knight. It has lost most of its mid-century charm, made over with cod-Victorian details, but that’s so often the way.