Categories
london pubs

A Barclay Perkins pub c.1954

The 1955 documentary We Live by the River provides a child’s-eye tour of post-war London including, of course, a stop off at the door of a busy pub – but which one?

You can watch the film here, as part of the excellent archive collection available via BBC iPlayer, or on YouTube if you’re outside the UK. The pub appears at about 21 minutes but it is worth watching the whole thing if you’re interested in the place and/or period.

The brief moment we spend in the pub offers one wonderful image after another – you could easily extract each one as a still photograph.

An accordion player in the doorway. Drinkers. The landlady. The landlord. Two men in animated discussion.

As we’ve said many times, shots of pub interiors with people drinking are oddly hard to come by so, even if these have the staged quality typical of British documentaries of this time, they’re a bit special.

From the information in the film, we can assume this pub is somewhere in Soho or Fitzrovia, can’t we?

It’s definitely a Barclay Perkins pub; and Barclay’s was subsumed by Courage, so you might have known it in that guise.

In terms of architecture, it’s got a corner door (although those are easily blocked up and moved); the exterior has what looks like marble and stone; the windows are rounded at the top.

Make your suggestions below – ideally with a link to photo evidence.

In the meantime, we can think of worse ways to spend Sunday than looking at every pub in central London on Street View.

 

Categories
Beer history pubs

Afraid to go to the pub, 1974

Some pubs in the city centre had to restrict services when bar staff were too frightened to report for duty. Bars and lounges normally packed on Friday night were almost deserted. Doors were guarded and people were searched before they went in.

Mr John Hill, manager of The Parisian – an underground bar in Cannon Street, was only able to open one bar because of lack of staff. “Their mothers or their husbands have asked them not to come and they haven’t,” he said.

His normally crowded bar was almost deserted.

Wendy Hughes, Birmingham Daily Post, 23 November 1974

In times of crisis there’s a certain comfort in looking back on previous crunchpoints and realising that we got through them.

In the mid-1970s, the IRA launched a bombing campaign in England which targeted city centres in particular. In November 1974 they planted bombs in two pubs in Birmingham, killing 21 people.

There’s been plenty written about the awful immediate effects of the bombing and of the miscarriage of justice that ensued but we want to focus on something else: the fact that these attacks made people afraid to go into town and to go to the pub.

If, as some argue, the point of terrorism is to spread fear and disrupt the economy, the Birmingham bombings were apparently effective.

In the run up to Christmas 1974, England’s second city was unusually, worryingly quiet, as reported in the first instance two days after the bombings, in the article from which the quote that opens this post is taken.

On 26 November, almost a week after the bombings, the same paper had the headline ‘Stores hit as fear keeps away shoppers’:

People were still staying clear of Birmingham city centre yesterday and business was ‘very quiet’ for the third trading day since Thursday’s bombs… Many managers thought trade would pick up by the weekend if the city centre remained quiet… Mr S.N. Hancock, general manager of Rackhams, said: “Trade is much slower than it should be. We are down by about 25 per cent. Perhaps it will pick up by the weekend, provided nothing else happens.”

A quiet Christmas can be hard for a hospitality business to recover from, can’t it?

Ongoing anxiety in the wake of the bombings also prompted other risky behaviour: in December 1974, English fire brigades were forced to issue warnings to publicans against resorting to the locking of rear fire exits as a supposed security measure. (Belfast Telegraph, 30 December 1974.)

It’s worth putting some of this in a broader context.

Throughout 1973, Coventry, another Midlands city, had been in a state of permanent anxiety as a series of bomb hoaxes caused panic, eventually culminating in James McDade’s failed and suicidally fatal attack on the telephone exchange in November that year.

In Birmingham itself, a bomb disposal officer was killed in Edgbaston in September 1973 and there were also constant bomb hoaxes keeping people on edge.

Pubs in particular were targeted at Guildford in September 1974 – another tragedy, another miscarriage of justice – and earlier in November 1974, in London, a bomb thrown into a “pub frequented mainly by soldiers” (name obscured for security reasons, presumably) killed two, including the barman.

We’ve only found one instance so far of a pub operator citing the IRA bombing campaign as the reason for the failure of their business, from the Coventry Evening Telegraph for 3 January 1976:

Coventry’s German-style Bier Keller is to close next week – in the backlash of the terrorist bombings of more than a year ago…. Trade was booming in the Hertford Street underground club until November 1974… “It seems as if the public have been scared off going in places like this,” said Mr David Jones, a director of EMI Cinemas and Leisure, who own the Bier Keller. “This was one of our more profitable establishments until the bomb explosion. Trade did pick up for a short time at one stage for it fell off again.”

It would be interesting to look into local archives documents – licensed victuallers’ meetings, council minutes – to find out if it was generally felt that the bombing campaign had reduced trade in pubs in Midlands cities in the later 1970s.

Categories
pubs quotes

Michael Innes depicts temperance tensions in Scotland

John Innes Mackintosh Stewart, 1906-1994, was a respected Scottish novelist and academic who also wrote crime novels under the name Michael Innes, featuring Inspector Appleby of Scotland Yard.

Lament for a Maker from 1938 is a fascinating piece set in the Scottish Highlands. It has a beautiful, snowbound Gothic setting and, of course, a depiction of a pub.

Actually, you could pull the passages about the pub and stitch them together into an effective short story.

The angle is the tension between Roberts, landlord at the Arms, Kinkeig’s one hotel, and Mrs Roberts, who serves behind the bar: she is a sly temperance campaigner, always trying to convince customers to forego whisky and beer for tea or ginger beer.

Here’s the best bit, cleverly woven through and enlivening an expository passage in which the locals discuss the eccentric Laird of Kinkeig:

Once in a while, you must know, I take a look over to the private bar – most of the better-thought-of folk of the parish think it a decent enough space for a bit crack of an evening. Will Saunders was there, and Rob Yule, and whiles in came the stationy… And behind the bar was Mistress Roberts, banging the pots about to show she was real unfriendly to the liquor and had never thought to come to the serving of it; a sore trial she was to Roberts but not undeserved, folk said, for all the time of their courting had she not been slipping him wee tracts about the poisonous action of alcohol on the blood-stream, and might a publican not have taken warning from that? Mistress Roberts said never a word until in came wee Carfrae, the greengrocer. Carfrae never touches, only he comes into the private for a gossip and Mistress Roberts keeps him a special ginger beer; at one time she put a row of the stuff behind the bar with a notice: Sparkling, Refreshing and Non-Injurious, but at that Roberts put his foot down, everything had its place, he said, and the place for a notice like that was in the sweetie-shops. As I say, wee Carfrae came in for this dreich drink of his, and it was him restarted the speak about Guthrie… Mistress Roberts made a shocked-like click with her tongue and poured herself out a cup of tea: she ever has a great tea pot at her elbow in the private and anyone comes in she I like enough over a cup to, gratis; it makes Roberts fair wild.

[…]

Rob walked over to [carfrae] and took the glass of ginger beer from his hand and emptied it, careful-like, in Mistress Roberts’ nearest aspidistra. ‘Carfrae, he said, ‘the Non-Injurious is wasted on you, man. It’s over late for such precautions: you’re nought but a poison-pup already.’

It wasn’t you could call an ugly situation, for the greengrocer was far from the sort would put up a fight against Rob Yule, there was just no dander to rouse in him. But it was fell uncomfortable; Carfrae was looking between yellow and green, like one of his own stale cabbages, the stationy was havering something about its being technically an assault, and Mistress Roberts had taken up her teaspoon and was stirring furious at the teapot – which was what she ever does when sore affronted. And then Will Saunders, who had been holding his whisht the same as myself, thought to cut in with a bit diversion. ‘Faith,’ cried Will, and look at the aspidistra!”

I don’t believe the plant had really suffered any harm from the Non-Injurious, but the way Will spoke and his pointing to the poor unhealthy thing in its pot fair gave the impression it had wilted that moment. I mind I gave a laugh overhearty to the decent maybe in a man of my years and an elder of the kirk forbye, Rob gave a great laugh too and then we saw that this time Mistress Roberts was real black affronted, she rattled her teapot like mad, herself making a noise like a bubblyjock with the gripes. After all, the Non-Injurious was some sort of sym bol to the wife of her struggle against Roberts and the massed power of darkness that was the liquor trade she’d married into.

Note the aspidistra – a fixed feature in early to mid-20th century pubs, hence the inclusion on the playlist we put together for our last book of Gracie Fields singing ‘The Biggest Aspidistra in the World’.

I get the impression Innes was fond of pubs and beer – the couple of other Appleby books I’ve read also feature little moments like this, which you don’t tend to get in Agatha Christie.

Categories
london pubs

Exploring craft beer in the age of track and trace

Is it fair to judge a bar or pub under current circumstances? Until recently, we’d have said a firm no but after a week in London we find ourselves thinking that if they can handle this, they can handle anything.

We were staying at Westfield in Stratford, East London, on the edge of the site of the 2012 Olympic Games, primarily for family and work reasons, but also because it’s a part of the city we find fascinating.

When Jess was growing up, and when Ray moved to London in 2000, there wasn’t much here at all – railways lines, flyovers, canals, marshes, overgrown woodland, relics of industry. You could spend hours trying to get from A to B in the absence of bridges or footpaths.

Then the Olympics came and it was transformed into a sort of Teletubbyland European Exposcape, followed by a phase of residential building designed to create several new ‘quarters’. The so-called East Village, the one that’s progressed the furthest, was right on our doorstep and is where we ended up spending a lot of time.

Categories
pubs

Take out to help out

We’re getting increasingly cross at the regurgitation of the Government’s line that the ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme is designed to boost pubs, as in this piece at BBC News.

First, the 50 per cent discount only applies to food and non-alcoholic beverages. That means only pubs serving food can possibly benefit.

But more serious in our view is that the scheme incentivises sitting in. There is no equivalent discount for places operating as takeaways which means that restaurants and pubs which have decided not to open on safety grounds – in the sincere belief that they’re doing the right thing – are going to lose out.

A number of our favourite Bristol pubs such as The Drapers Arms, The Good Measure and The Plough – have made the difficult decision not to open.

And these aren’t all micropubs like The Drapers – The Plough is a fairly normal, average-sized pub.

Sign outside a pub.

This along with the behaviour we witnessed at the weekend has really made us question which pubs we personally want to support, and how, while the coronavirus is still with us.

We’ve now been to the pub, or rather two pubs, four times since they reopened, not counting many trips to the Drapers for takeaway beer.

It felt important to at least try going to a pub or two once they had reopened. After all, we write about beer and pubs and desperately want pubs to survive. We’d also rather the economy didn’t crash further. And Government messaging around “enjoying what you used to do” probably played its part, too.

In both cases, days apart, we went to pubs that were part of large chains, with apps and carefully stated rules, which provided some initial reassurance. Both are also pubs that we’ve visited a lot and would like to see stay open. (There are many more pubs in Bristol that also fit that criteria, of course).

But both also have food offerings that will allow them to benefit from the VAT cut and the discount scheme, so perhaps they’re not the pubs that need our love right now.

Six weeks ago we wrote fairly positively about the plans for reopening pubs and our thoughts still remain the same. The true pub experience for us is not about an economic transaction – it’s about really enjoying a space that isn’t yours and mingling with others. And we think it’s almost impossible to achieve this while also maintaining social distancing. We’re sure the people taking the piss in the pub on Saturday weren’t doing it maliciously, they’d just had a few and wanted to socialise properly, like they would have done pre-pandemic.

Government messaging has not helped, with the emphasis on getting back to normal, rather than reinforcing the point that you’re still supposed to be distanced from other households even if you meet up with them down the local.

Either they have no idea why people go to the pub or how they behave, or they know and are choosing to keep the message vague in the vain hope that a few extra pints sold will somehow save the hospitality industry.

As everything in life is now reduced to risk assessment vs economic benefit, this makes the case all the more plain for continuing with takeaways for most of our Bristol drinking. The pub (The Drapers, primarily) gets the economic benefit and it remains much less risky for them, for us and our community.

This is our personal decision. We’re not criticising those who want or need a cheap meal out at this time – anything to stay cheerful, really.

Nor are we having a pop at those whose only option for human contact is to visit a pub, or who need to spend some time outside their house to keep their brains healthy.

And, of course, we appreciate that being able to enjoy an off licence experience at home while happily paying pub prices for beer is a sign of our privilege.