Beer delivery vans in Bristol between the wars

In 1929 neither estate had a pub or off-licence, and tenants had to resort to vans selling alcoholic drink which plied the area.”

That intrigu­ing line appears in a paper by Madge Dress­er called ‘Hous­ing pol­i­cy in Bris­tol, 1919–30’, col­lect­ed in Coun­cil­lors and ten­ants: local author­i­ty hous­ing in Eng­lish cities, 1919–1939. The estates Dr Dress­er refers to are Hor­field and Sea Mills.

As we dis­cov­ered research­ing 20th Cen­tu­ry Pub, it’s almost impos­si­ble to take a seri­ous inter­est in the devel­op­ment of the pub­lic house with­out also get­ting into hous­ing and social pol­i­cy.

Hous­ing estates – a new idea as the 19th cen­tu­ry turned into the 20th, even if they’re now tak­en for grant­ed – were gen­er­al­ly dry by default until the 1920s. What was the point of mov­ing peo­ple out of slums if the slum behav­iour (as it was viewed) car­ried on as before?

Estates, and espe­cial­ly those with ‘gar­den city’ pre­ten­sions, were about fresh air, healthy pur­suits, and the com­fort of the home. If peo­ple need­ed to socialise, there were church­es, and maybe sports clubs.

But fan­cy­ing a pint with your mates every now and then isn’t weird – it’s quite nor­mal. As a result, many peo­ple liv­ing on estates lob­bied for the pro­vi­sion of social clubs and pubs, but Bris­tol’s estates were with­out pubs until the 1930s.

What about those booze deliv­ery wag­ons? Well, a 1929 news sto­ry cov­er­ing the appli­ca­tion for an off-licence by a Sea Mills shop­keep­er Thomas Prestidge (West­ern Dai­ly Press, 5 March) pro­vides a bit more detail:

There was a large num­ber of res­i­dents on the Sea Mills Estate who had asked Mr Prestidge to make the appli­ca­tion. The near­est licensed house was the Swan in Stoke Lane, over a mile away, and in the oth­er direc­tion the near­est place was a mile and half away. At present the wants of the inhab­i­tants were sup­plied by three or four peo­ple who came from var­i­ous dis­tricts in and out of Bris­tol and deliv­ered to res­i­dents on the estate in dozen and half-dozen bot­tles.

So, to be clear, not only were there no pubs – there was nowhere to buy any alco­holic drink at all.

Objec­tions to this appli­ca­tion from local doc­tors and reli­gious types argued that sup­ply by deliv­ery was per­fect­ly ade­quate and that peo­ple who had moved to Sea Mills to get away from ‘hub­bub’ would pre­fer drink­ing to hap­pen, if it had to hap­pen at all, behind closed doors. Nonethe­less, the licence was grant­ed on a pro­vi­sion­al basis.

Sea Mills did even­tu­al­ly get a pub, and a very grand one: the Progress Inn (pic­tured above). It opened in 1936, but closed in 2011, and was then con­vert­ed into a nurs­ery.

That means if you live at Sea Mills and fan­cy a beer, deliv­ery trucks, from super­mar­kets these days, might once again be the best option.

Progress? What progress?

This hap­pens to be Sea Mills’ cen­te­nary year and the estate is the sub­ject of a local her­itage project, Sea Mills 100. We’ll be watch­ing with inter­est for infor­ma­tion on the estate’s licenc­ing bat­tles.

The Beer of the Future, 1924

More lager, daintier glassware, beer at the dinner table… These were some of the predictions made by  brewing scientist Herbert Lloyd Hind in a talk given to a meeting of Scottish brewers on Burns Day 1924.

We came across this paper while research­ing our big two-parter and thought it deserved a bit of atten­tion in its own right.

As every­one knows, mak­ing pre­dic­tions is a mug’s game, but Mr Hind, as you’ll see, did pret­ty well.

Detail from a Whitbread advertisement, 1937, showing beer with food.

1. Beer must get prettier

The days are past when meals could be eat­en from wood­en bowls, and the days of the old pint pot are num­bered. There was noth­ing like the pewter pot when it was nec­es­sary to hide the drink from the eye to make its con­sump­tion pos­si­ble. Devel­op­ing taste demands that food be served with greater del­i­ca­cy, and that beer be offered in shin­ing glass which sets off its attrac­tive sparkle and con­di­tion to the utmost, and under con­di­tions in which it has noth­ing to suf­fer when com­pared to cham­pagne, or dark red wine.”

This might seem like a pre-echo of the so-called ‘wini­fi­ca­tion of beer’ – more an aspi­ra­tion than a reflec­tion of real­i­ty – but think about how beer has been pre­sent­ed in the last cen­tu­ry: glass became the norm, and even quite ordi­nary com­mod­i­ty beers have their own brand­ed glass­ware and pre­scribed pour­ing meth­ods.

Hind goes on to argue that British beer suf­fers in beau­ty con­tests because it lacks the sub­stan­tial, sta­ble foam of the Con­ti­nen­tal rivals. Which brings us to…

1937 adver­tise­ment for Bar­clay Perkins lager.
2. More lager, and a drift away from ale

In this coun­try beer drinkers have become so wed­ded to the flavour of top fer­men­ta­tion beer that they pre­fer it, and in many cas­es express dis­like for lager. The great major­i­ty, how­ev­er, of those who decry lager have nev­er tast­ed it as it should be, and gen­er­al­ly say they do not like such thin stuff, ignor­ing the fact that such a descrip­tion does not apply to good lager any more than it does to good Eng­lish beer.

Hind was cau­tious on lager but essen­tial­ly called it: tastes can change, he argued – British drinkers had already ditched “that acid beer that used to have a great sale in sev­er­al dis­tricts” – and Den­mark was an exam­ple of a coun­try sim­i­lar in cli­mate to Britain where lager had oust­ed top-fer­ment­ed beer.

In fact, he point­ed out, Britain was the odd­i­ty in hav­ing not embraced lager, and that per­haps the decrease in beer con­sump­tion in Britain could be put down to the fact that brew­ers weren’t giv­ing peo­ple beer they want­ed to drink:

[Those] coun­tries show­ing an increase [in beer con­sump­tion] were all lager-drink­ing coun­tries, or coun­tries where lager was grad­u­al­ly oust­ing top fer­men­ta­tion beers. If there is any­thing in this argu­ment it must fol­low that lager is bet­ter than ale


He cer­tain­ly got this right, any­way: Britain did even­tu­al­ly embrace lager, and in a big way. Only now in the 21st cen­tu­ry is there any evi­dence of re-bal­anc­ing.

Macro shot of text and diagram: 'Yeast'.

3. Cleaner, more stable beer

Typ­i­cal char­ac­ter­is­tics of British beers are their hop aro­ma and the flavours pro­duced by sec­ondary fer­men­ta­tion. Chill­ing, fil­tra­tion and pas­teuri­sa­tion tend to remove these very much-desired flavours, so that chilled and fil­tered beer gen­er­al­ly suf­fers in com­par­i­son with nat­u­ral­ly con­di­tioned beer.

This is par­tic­u­lar­ly astute and sets up a debate that would dom­i­nate the fol­low­ing cen­tu­ry: how do we retain the essen­tial char­ac­ter of British beer while also tam­ing it for ease of pro­duc­tion, dis­tri­b­u­tion and dis­pense?

Hind goes on to argue that the British beer ought to be fer­ment­ed with pure yeast strains – that it was time to do away with the super­sti­tion and sen­ti­ment around Eng­lish brew­ing yeast:

[The] sweep­ing con­dem­na­tion some times passed on any sug­ges­tion to adapt pure yeast to Eng­lish con­di­tions is not jus­ti­fied. The only tri­als I know of were made many years ago and in con­nec­tion with beers whose dis­tinc­tive palate depend­ed on a sec­ondary fer­men­ta­tion. This dis­tinc­tive Bur­ton flavour I have seen pro­duced in beers as dif­fer­ent from nor­mal Bur­ton beers as bot­tom-fer­ment­ed stout by an inoc­u­la­tion in the bot­tle of pure cul­tures of Bre­tan­no­myces, as its dis­cov­er­er, Clausen, called the par­tic­u­lar Toru­la employed. Con­di­tions are now entire­ly altered. Sec­ondary fer­men­ta­tion in far the greater num­ber of brew­eries is a thing of the past, and the desider­a­tum now is to pre­vent the devel­op­ment of sec­ondary yeast. Under con­di­tions such as these, sure­ly it is time to reopen the inves­ti­ga­tion and endeav­our to put fer­men­ta­tion on a sounder and more cer­tain basis.

This point of view cer­tain­ly won out in the indus­try but, of course, drinkers did notice when Adnams changed and Bod­ding­ton’s lost its com­plex­i­ty.

"Traditional Country Ales" window livery.

4. Traditional English methods don’t work for session ales

I think it will be admit­ted on all hands that the typ­i­cal Eng­lish nat­u­ral­ly matured pale ales left very lit­tle to be desired. They had a delight­ful appetis­ing flavour, and poured from the bot­tle with beau­ti­ful appear­ance and con­di­tion. The cask beers of sim­i­lar type were also excel­lent, but low­er grav­i­ties have been forced upon us, and the ten­den­cy towards a lighter kind of beer seems so def­i­nite that it is hard­ly like­ly that there will be any return to the old style. Endeav­ours to brew these lighter beers on the old lines are not alto­geth­er a suc­cess, as is evi­denced by the amount of beer on the mar­ket lack­ing in bril­liance or con­di­tion.

This is some con­tro­ver­sial stuff, or at least seems that way from this side of the real ale rev­o­lu­tion of the 1970s.

It’s become a point of faith that British brew­ing meth­ods are par­tic­u­lar­ly well suit­ed to pro­duc­ing low ABV beers, adding com­plex­i­ty to make up for the lack of oomph.

The answer to this con­tra­dic­tion – the desire for beers to be both lighter and clean­er – is, Hind argues, to adopt lager brew­ing meth­ods even for beers that aren’t pre­sent­ed as lager.

Which is exact­ly what, for exam­ple, Thorn­bridge does, using lager yeast for its pack­aged prod­ucts and tra­di­tion­al ale yeast for casks. (At least this is what we think Rob Lovatt, Thorn­bridge head brew­er, told us in a pub about four years ago.)

Keg fonts at a central London pub.

5. Keg!

Even though our meth­ods of man­u­fac­ture were ide­al, there is no pos­si­bil­i­ty of the invari­able appear­ance of the beer in the cus­tomer’s glass in con­di­tion that will sat­is­fy a con­nois­seur, or even a man with ordi­nary stan­dards of taste and per­cep­tion. The meth­ods of retail are hope­less­ly out of date. Though the brew­ers do all that is human­ly pos­si­ble, there are all too many chances of the beer being ruined in the pub­li­can’s cel­lar or at the bar… While bars are fit­ted with the usu­al types of pumps, and unlim­it­ed air is allowed to pass into casks, flat­ten­ing and destroy­ing the flavour of the beer, how can it be expect­ed that beer will serve well to the end of the cask ? The pos­si­bil­i­ties which are offered in this direc­tion by com­pressed CO2 col­lect­ed in the brew­ery have hard­ly been explored at all in this coun­try…

He real­ly nailed this one.

Almost a hun­dred years lat­er the same con­ver­sa­tion is still going, keg bit­ter hav­ing arrived then retreat­ed, while gas remains the key flash­point in Britain’s beer cul­ture wars.

It’s all about qual­i­ty, every­one agrees, and cask ale at point of ser­vice does­n’t always make a good show­ing for itself. “Look after it bet­ter!” say the purists; “Reduce the oppor­tu­ni­ty for user error!” answer the prag­ma­tists.

Mean­while, most peo­ple car­ry on drink­ing lager, obliv­i­ous and unin­ter­est­ed.

* * *

Hind’s pre­dic­tions are inter­est­ing because they’re not out­landish – robot bar­tenders! Pow­dered beer! – but care­ful, based on obser­va­tion, and on a knowl­edge of things already afoot in the beer indus­try in the UK, and espe­cial­ly abroad.

It would be inter­est­ing to read sim­i­lar papers from brew­ers active in 2018.

The Mystery of the Rock House Tavern

We spotted the above post one one of our favourite Instagram accounts the other day and thought it ought to be a doddle to track down the history of the Rock House Tavern. Well, it wasn’t, but we think we’ve got there, and the solution offers an intriguing glimpse into the past.

First, yes, Liz is right– there is no use­ful infor­ma­tion online, or in our copy of the 1975 pub guide, or in news­pa­pers archives. Search­ing for men­tion of pubs around that loca­tion in more gen­er­al terms, though, did point us to a 1986 book called City Pit: Mem­oirs of a Speed­well Min­er by Fred Moss. It might sur­prise some peo­ple to dis­cov­er that Bris­tol had coal mines but it did. Fred Moss was born in 1906 and start­ed work as a min­er in 1921. Here’s what he has to say about drink­ing, on p.37:

[Let] me tell you about “The Long Bar”. This con­sist­ed of a lane run­ning from Deep Pit Road to Hol­ly Lodge Road. There were just a few hous­es in Hol­ly Lodge, only a cou­ple of min­ers lived there. Now about half way up this lane there was a pond called the “Lil­ly Pond”. It was a pool con­sist­ing of water pumped from the near­by pit. In this lane there was also a sin­gle rail­way track, which was used to car­ry trucks of coal from Speed­well Pit to the main Great West­ern Rail­way line and of course the Mid­land Rail­way line. The track was also used to take trucks of small coal to the coke ovens and wash­ing plant.

Now, near this lane there was an off-licence beer house. The after­noon shift min­ers would buy beer at this off-licence and on a nice sun­ny day would to to this lane and have a chat and a drink before descend­ing the pit.… There would be twen­ty or thir­ty men either sit­ting on a grass bank of lean­ing against a wood­en fence drink­ing and chat­ting before work­ing and when the morn­ing shift came up from work, some of them would buy a drink and stand or sit in the lane before going home. Yes! I would say that was the longest bar in the world.

We find this fas­ci­nat­ing – anoth­er reminder that peo­ple enjoyed beer in all kinds of ways in the past, not only in what we would now recog­nise as pubs, and fol­low­ing all kinds of pat­terns dic­tat­ed by their work.

Fred’s mem­oir gives us some hard infor­ma­tion to work with and we are blessed in 2018 with easy access to his­toric maps, satel­lite imagery and Google Street View which means it’s quite easy to pin all this down.

Here’s the lane we think Fred is describ­ing as pic­tured in an OS map from the imme­di­ate post-WWII peri­od, via Know Your Place:

Map showing the lane, 'Brook Road'.

The Rock House is at the very bot­tom left cor­ner, marked “BH” for beer­house; the lane is Brook Road which runs off imme­di­ate­ly oppo­site pass­ing a reser­voir (the pond Fred men­tions?) and cross­ing a small rail­way line on the way to Hol­ly Lodge Road, which also fits with Fred’s descrip­tion. One small wrin­kle: there is anoth­er beer­house marked on the map, also near the point where the lane spits out, so maybe he did­n’t have The Rock House in mind. But we still reck­on all this, espe­cial­ly the BH des­ig­na­tion on the map, explains why The Rock House is so obscure: though it may have start­ed as a prop­er drink-in beer­house c.1830, it prob­a­bly became a pure­ly take-out premis­es in the wake of the 1869 Licens­ing Act.

But that’s just some­what informed guess­work. If you know oth­er­wise, drop us a line or com­ment below. We’ll keep an eye out in books and archives as we go and, as Google Maps satel­lite imagery sug­gests the lane is still there and now a pub­lic foot­path, we’ll also go explor­ing and see what we can see.

Main image, top: Bris­tol min­ers c.1906 via City Pit.

Charabanc Fever

Main image above: ‘Sebastopol Inn, Ladies Out­ing, Pre­ston’, from Pre­ston Dig­i­tal Archive on Flickr.

A few weeks ago Doreen (@londondear) made us pause and think when she said she had been puzzled by the mention of ‘charabancs’ in our recent book, 20th Century Pub, and had to look up what it meant.

Some­how, we’ve always known about chara­bancs, though they’ve been effec­tive­ly extinct for more than half a cen­tu­ry and the word is now only used as a delib­er­ate archaism. While research­ing the book chara­bancs became a kind of run­ning joke for us as try­ing to find his­toric pho­tographs of pubs with­out chara­bancs parked in front of them was often a chal­lenge.

But Doreen is quite right – we prob­a­bly ought to have giv­en a few words of expla­na­tion, but now those few words have turned into this rather long blog post. We’re grate­ful to Patre­on sub­scribers like Harley Gold­smith and Peter Sid­well for giv­ing us an excuse to spend quite so much time on it.

* * *

Vintage illustration.
A wag­onette. (SOURCE: The Book of the Horse, 1880, via the Inter­net Archive.)

The word chara­banc comes from the French char-à-bancs (lit­er­al­ly a car­riage with bench­es) and became attached in Britain to large six- or eight-seater car­riages pre­vi­ous­ly known as wag­onettes, prob­a­bly because it sound­ed fanci­er.

The pop­u­lar­i­ty of chara­bancs among work­ing class peo­ple arose along­side the very con­cept of leisure time. An account from 1872 describes how shop assis­tants in Devon cel­e­brat­ed the intro­duc­tion of ear­ly clos­ing on Thurs­day after­noons by tak­ing a chara­banc trip to Bab­ba­combe. [1]

Hir­ing a chara­banc was an indul­gence but an afford­able one and club­bing togeth­er to pay for it, then trav­el­ling in a mer­ry group, was half the fun. By the 1880s there were chara­bancs pulled by four hors­es capa­ble of car­ry­ing 21 pas­sen­gers, or even 35. [2]

Pubs were nat­ur­al hubs for clubs, soci­eties and teams, and an equal­ly obvi­ous cen­tre for the organ­i­sa­tion of chara­banc trips, and for the pick-up and drop of daytrip­pers. Thus chara­bancs came to be strong­ly asso­ci­at­ed with pubs. (But not exclu­sive­ly – church groups were also big chara­banc fans.)

Con­tin­ue read­ing “Chara­banc Fever”

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.