H.E. Bates Evokes a Country Pub, 1934

It must be forty years since my aunt began to keep the pub of which I am writ­ing; and less than five years since she ceased to be the land­la­dy of it… It was not prim, and I am pret­ty sure it was not always prop­er, but it had about it a kind of aus­tere home­li­ness. The floors were of pol­ished brick, the tables were scrubbed like bleached bones, and the lamps shone like alter brass­es. There were three rooms – the bar, the smoke-room, and the par­lour – and they had char­ac­ters of their own. And just as I see my aunt in per­pet­u­al black, so I nev­er think of that pub with­out remem­ber­ing the mild beery smell that all her scrub­bing could nev­er wash away, the odour of lamp oil and the faint fra­grance of old gera­ni­ums sun-warmed in the sum­mer win­dows.

From ‘A Coun­try Pub’ by H.E. Bates, New States­man, 25 August 1934

Bar Staff on the Fiddle, 1944

The December 1944 edition of Lilliput, a ‘gentleman’s magazine’, includes an article about – or maybe an exposé of – bar staff in London pubs.

It’s cred­it­ed to ‘Lemuel Gul­liv­er’ and is enti­tled Gul­liv­er Peeps Behind the Bar imply­ing a con­nec­tion to the satir­i­cal tra­di­tion of Jonathan Swift; with that in mind, it’s per­haps not the stuff foot­notes are made of, unless care­ful­ly word­ed. Which is to say the author might well have just made it all up, or at least used plen­ty of cre­ative licence in writ­ing up mate­r­i­al from var­i­ous sources, although there is the ring of truth about many of the details. Here’s how it opens:

You’ll get thir­ty-five bob a week,’ said the bar­maid duck­ing through a hatch in the mahogany counter, ‘a bit more if you’re lucky.’ Her per­ox­ide head popped up again in the frame of the orna­men­tal bot­tles and frost­ed glass at the back of the bar. ‘You live in,’ she said, ‘and you exist for one half-day out a week, from eleven in the morn­ing til eleven at night.’

She went on to detail the var­i­ous ways bar­maids in Lon­don pubs com­pen­sate them­selves for their mis­er­able lot, name­ly ‘fid­dling’.

Go on with you,’ said the bar­maid. ‘You know what fid­dling is, mak­ing a bit on the side.’ She gave a mas­cara wink.

First, there was the bar­maid who took addi­tion­al com­pen­sa­tion in the form of drink, ‘a bot­tle of gin before break­fast’, the emp­ty being refilled with ‘bulk gin and pale sher­ry’ to cov­er her tracks. The cus­tomers, starved for booze by wartime rationing, did­n’t notice or care.

The cover of Lilliput, December 1944.

Then there was a bar­man who was in the habit of slip­ping coins into his waist­coat but was found out because his pock­et was wet: ‘Don’t you know that mon­ey tak­en over the bar is always wet with the the spilt beer?’ Because of the preva­lence of this kind of thing, accord­ing to Gul­liv­er’s infor­mant, most pubs banned bar staff from hav­ing any mon­ey in their pock­ets at all.

There were var­i­ous meth­ods for fid­dling the till. First, there’s the sim­ple wheeze of tak­ing orders for mul­ti­ple rounds but only ring­ing up the price of one – easy, but risky. Alter­na­tive­ly, they might work with a friend pos­ing as a cus­tomer on the oth­er side of the bar: ‘Every time the accom­plice buys a drink he gets change for a quid.’ A third more elab­o­rate approach sounds pos­i­tive­ly inge­nious:

Why at one place I was at they bored a hole in the floor of the bar… The peo­ple in the bar used to drop the mon­ey on the floor, shuf­fle it down the hole and the cel­lar­man used to catch it in a beer fil­ter.

She explained that such dis­hon­est bar staff worked in gangs, mov­ing around to avoid the police, and alter­nat­ing so that some worked while oth­ers laid low. They found new jobs using forged ref­er­ences, ‘six­pence each’.

The arti­cle con­cludes with details of a clever cus­tomer-side con trick that’s new to us:

The most famous trick is called ‘Ring­ing the Changes’. It’s worked by two men. One comes into the saloon bar, orders a drink and offers a pound note. Imme­di­ate­ly after, the accom­plice goes into the pub­lic bar, orders a drink too, and pays for it out of a ten-bob note. When he gets his change he says that it was­n’t a ten-bob note he had, it was a pound. And, to prove it, he gives the num­ber. When they go to the till, they find the pound note because it’s the one the accom­plice had just hand­ed in. Well, when that hap­pens, the land­lord has to pay up.

Can any­one who works in a pub or bar tell us whether that still hap­pens today, or have CCTV and the death of the mul­ti-bar lay­out out done for this (ahem) fine old tra­di­tion?

The main illus­tra­tion above is signed ‘Vic­to­ria’ which we think means it’s by Vic­to­ria David­son, 1915–1999.

PUB BITS: Televisions in Pubs, 1955

1950s TV.

We’ve picked up lots of material on pubs that hasn’t made it into final text of The Big Project but we’re going to share some of it here in the coming months.

Back in 1955 peo­ple were real­ly wor­ried about the new­ly ubiq­ui­tous TV set killing off clubs, soci­eties, cin­e­mas, and even threat­en­ing the church. Pub­li­cans were grum­bling, too, as jour­nal­ist Der­rick Boothroyd dis­cov­ered when research­ing an arti­cle, ‘New Ideas Can Fight TV Com­pe­ti­tion’, for the York­shire Post and Leeds Intel­li­gencer. (28/02, p.9.)

He spoke to some who ‘moaned’ that their pubs were desert­ed, espe­cial­ly when the box­ing was on TV, but for bal­ance also found some­one who was more upbeat – the land­lord of a ‘bright and cheer­ful’ pub­lic house:

TV has affect­ed us undoubt­ed­ly… But it’s noth­ing like as bad as some peo­ple make out. I find the only nights that my trade is poor are when there is some­thing real­ly big on. Mind you, I’ve got to set out to attract peo­ple now and I think that’s what a lot pub­li­cans tend to for­get. But pro­vid­ed you offer some incen­tive I don’t think TV need be feared. The aver­age man — and the aver­age work­ing man in par­tic­u­lar — is not the type who wants to stay at home every night. He wants to go out and have yap with his pals at the local — and if he has a decent local to go to, he’ll still go even if he has two TV sets. I should add how­ev­er that it’s no solu­tion to put TV in your pub. Every­one watch­es it and no one drinks. I’ve had mine tak­en out —and so have a lot oth­er land­lords.

Six­ty-plus years on that still sounds like good advice to us. We had­n’t real­ly con­sid­ered it but it’s fun­ny how many of the pubs we warm to, from down-home to high-falutin, are TV free.

QUICK ONE: The Flea and Sawdust School, 1927

The English Public House As It Is, a book by social observer Ernest Selley, was published in 1927. Re-reading it in search of a reference, we spotted a passage that hadn’t previously grabbed our attention.

In it, Sel­l­ey reports on his vis­it to The Fel­low­ship Inn, Belling­ham, South Lon­don (pic­tured above when we vis­it­ed in August), where he met some­one who was unim­pressed with the new style of ‘improved pub­lic house’:

Evi­dent­ly this man is a mem­ber of what I once heard described as ‘The Flea and Saw­dust School’; one of the type which prefers the stuffy ‘cozi­ness’ of the dirty, ill-ven­ti­lat­ed tap­room to any of the ‘new fan­gled’ ideas.

Some ances­tor of The Pub Cur­mud­geon, per­haps? (That’s not us hav­ing a go: we sus­pect he’ll quite like the com­par­i­son.)

It’s inter­est­ing to us that this lob­by, which we asso­ciate with a cer­tain wing with­in CAMRA today, was suf­fi­cient­ly well-devel­oped by the mid-1920s for Sel­l­ey to say he had ‘met sev­er­al of these crit­ics’, and for it to deserve a nick­name. It was clear­ly, as they say, ‘a thing’.

The Fellowship Inn when it was new.
The Fel­low­ship Inn in c.1920s. SOURCE: Inside Hous­ing.

Also of note, in the sec­tion that imme­di­ate­ly fol­lows, is an account of ear­ly beer snob­bery: Sel­l­ey records a meet­ing with a bloke who won’t drink at the local improved pub because ‘the beer is rot­ten’. Sel­l­ey says he tried it and found it any­thing but ‘rot­ten’. In his view the man was prej­u­diced because he resent­ed the posh­er, more expen­sive pub, even though Sel­l­ey was sure he would have enjoyed the very same beer served at the more down-to-earth ‘Pig and Whis­tle’. We can’t say for sure what was real­ly going on – Sel­l­ey was prej­u­diced too in his own way, in favour of improved pubs – but this kind of debate about val­ue, qual­i­ty, and the qual­i­ties of a ‘prop­er pub’ is cer­tain­ly still going on 90 years lat­er.

Beer in Pubs, 1951

Spread from LHATM.

It’s always exciting to come across specific notes on how beers of the past looked and tasted, especially when those notes are from someone inside the industry.

Through a foot­note to a foot­note in some­one else’s book we recent­ly came across Licensed Hous­es and Their Man­age­ment, a three-vol­ume guide­book pub­lished in mul­ti­ple edi­tions from 1923 onwards and edit­ed by W. Bent­ly Cap­per. It’s made up of a whole series of essays and arti­cles by dif­fer­ent authors cov­er­ing every­thing from book-keep­ing to ‘han­dling female staff’. We’re going to post a few more bits from it in the Bits We Under­lined for­mat at some point but, for now, the stuff on beer seemed too inter­est­ing not to share in its own right.

The sec­tion is called ‘Ales and Stouts and Hints on Cel­lar Man­age­ment’ and is cred­it­ed to an anony­mous ‘A Brew­ery Cel­lars Man­ag­er’. (Worth not­ing, maybe, that the accom­pa­ny­ing pics are from Fuller’s.)

First, we should say that, through­out, it is made clear that beer should def­i­nite­ly pos­sess ‘bril­lian­cy’, i.e. must be com­plete­ly clear. We’ve col­lect­ed lots of exam­ples of peo­ple not mind­ing a bit of haze in their beer, or even pre­fer­ring it, but there was cer­tain­ly a main­stream con­sen­sus that clar­i­ty was best by the mid-20th Cen­tu­ry.

There are three types of dis­pense list­ed: straight from the cask, via beer engine and ‘the Scot­tish method of draw­ing’ – that is air or top pres­sure. (The cause of so much strife in CAMRA dur­ing the late 1970s.) There is also a love­ly men­tion of what are now known as sparklers:

With the beer engine, there is some­times a dif­fi­cul­ty dur­ing the win­ter months of pro­duc­ing a good head on the beer… To com­bat this there are sev­er­al excel­lent fit­tings on the mar­ket in the shape of ‘noz­zles’ or ‘sprin­klers’ which are fit­ted to the spout of the engine. These agi­tate the beer as it pass­es into the glass and pro­duce a head, with­out affect­ing the palate in any degree.

Right, then – time for the main event: BEER. This sec­tion begins by high­light­ing the impor­tance of choos­ing good beers and the strength of ‘local con­di­tions and prej­u­dices’:

In Lon­don, for instance, one class of beer will find favour in one dis­trict, whilst in anoth­er part of the town the same beer would not be appre­ci­at­ed. The same thing applies through the whole of the coun­ties…

The author then very use­ful­ly breaks it down by style:

Mild Ales… In some parts a dark, sweet ale must be served. This must be as fresh as pos­si­ble and quite bril­liant. In the indus­tri­al cen­tres this beer will be in very great demand… In the res­i­den­tial or sub­ur­ban areas, a mild ale of a lighter colour is more in favour…

Ron Pat­tin­son has explored the dif­fer­ence between urban and coun­try milds but we love the idea of Metroland Mild!

Bur­ton… is a heavy-grav­i­ty ale, very red in colour, and with a dis­tinct dry-hop flavour. There is a very steady demand for this beer all the year round, but in win­ter-time the sales in some dis­tricts equal those of mild ale… [It should be] nei­ther too bit­ter nor too sweet, but [have] a round, full-bod­ied flavour.

Colour and flavour notes! Red ale – sounds quite trendy, does­n’t it?

Bit­ter… Bit­ter ales form the great part of the saloon and pri­vate-bar demand. These beers are the most del­i­cate and sen­si­tive of all brewed. The colour must be as of bright pol­ished amber, and the pun­gent aro­ma of the hops must be well in evi­dence. It is very impor­tant… that the palate is quite clean as the great charm of bit­ter ales lies in their del­i­cate palate flavour… There is lit­tle doubt that the Bur­ton-brewed ales are the best of this vari­ety, although great progress has been made in oth­er parts of the coun­try by brew­ers and com­pe­ti­tion is very keen in this beer.

In case you don’t know how social class mapped to bars, the saloon and pri­vate-bar were the rel­a­tive­ly posh ones. Bit­ter was a pre­mi­um prod­uct, the craft beer of its day, drunk for flavour as much as alco­hol con­tent or nour­ish­ment. (There’s more from us on the his­to­ry of bit­ter here.)

Stouts… are brewed from high­ly roast­ed malts and are there­fore dark brown in colour. The palate should be full and creamy, but not too sweet. Avoid stouts that are not in con­di­tion or that have too bit­ter a flavour. There is lit­tle doubt that among the best stouts the best are those brewed in Lon­don…

An ear­ly use of creamy to describe beer, there? From long before nitro was a thing, too. But what is the dif­fer­ence between stout and porter?

Porter… is a light-grav­i­ty black beer which is usu­al­ly much sweet­er than stouts.

There you go. Sort­ed. Sort of.

There are many more edi­tions of LHATM stretch­ing back 25 years from this one – if you have a copy from before World War II, per­haps you can check whether this advice changed over the years?