In researching his book The English Public House as it is Ernest Selley travelled to various towns around Britain and concluded that there were three types of pub.
The Food Tavern – a type of pub that ‘definitely sets out to provide meals… something more than biscuits and cheese, sandwiches and cut cake’. These he found mostly in large towns and cities and observed that they tended to serve food at lunchtime, to business-people. This statement seems to confirm the view that the wide availability of substantial food in pubs is a relatively recent development: ‘My experience, generally, has been that, outside limited areas, there is no attempt to provide meals on licensed premises.’
Social Houses – ‘A tour round the public houses of any town will bring out the fact that certain houses possess greater social conveniences than others.’ These are the kind of pubs with pigeon clubs, cycling clubs, music, comedians, skittles, and cork clubs: ‘The chairman…says, “Gentlemen, produce your corks,” The man who cannot produce his cork has to pay for a round of drinks.’
Drink Shops – ‘The lowest type of public house… which provides practically nothing in the way of social amenities except shelter and liquid refreshment.’ There is conversation but it is ‘about on a level with the street corner group’; there is sawdust on the floor; and hardly any seating.
How does that map with today’s pub scene? We’d say, based on our own un-scientific observations, that the group in the middle (live music and pigeon clubs) has shrunk, or become a kind of heritage exercise; food taverns have become much more common – almost the norm; while barebones ‘drink shops’ have become what people now call ‘rough pubs’.
‘Some time ago,’ begins S. H. Evershed’s account of his travels, ‘I was commissioned by a gentleman who had bought a small brewery in Belgium to fit up the brewery with the necessary plant’.
You might recognise the name Evershed from old labels for Marston’s of Burton-upon-Trent. Evershed was a brewery taken over by Marston’s in 1905 and there were two generations of men called Sydney Herbert Evershed, father and son. We can’t be quite sure which of them is responsible for this account but our guess is that it was the Sydney Herbert the younger, born in 1886, who would have been in his thirties in 1924, and later, as MD of the company, went on to introduce Marston’s Pedigree, in 1952.
This detailed account of his Belgian jaunt appeared in the May 1924 edition of the Journal of the Operative Brewers’ Guild, an organisation based in the north of England which eventually became part of the IBD. The journal was written by brewers, for brewers, and generally explored minute practical details of the brewing process, including what to feed horses for the maximum efficiency, and the price of Isinglass on the world market.
The Belgians’ motive was simply to ‘brew under English conditions in order to get inside the Belgian tariff wall’ – that is, to provide English-style beer to Belgians who were thirsting for it without paying high import duties intended to keep out German goods in the post-war reconstruction phase. (Think of Boston Lager being brewed at Shepherd Neame.)
I found the brewery premises in excellent state – beautifully constructed – on the tower system – with tiled floors on every storey… Almost all the windows were broken, and half the roof tiles were off, while every particle of brass or copper had been removed by the Germans, including the copper, with its dome, mash tun taps and pipes, refrigerator, and every bearing form the shafting and boiler house fittings.
As pointed out by one commenter on our post about beer clarity from last week, that can give us an insight into whether hazy beer necessarily tasted better, or was thought to taste better, in the past.
We put Ron’s figures into a spreadsheet (from 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11) and cut them various ways. Here’s what we found:
Beers being rated on a scale of ‑3 to 2, of the 84 beers rated 1 and 2, some 22 were described as hazy, cloudy or variants thereon.
Of the 60 beers scoring between ‑1 and ‑3, some 23 were described as bright or brilliant.
Some beers described as hazy or cloudy were recorded as having ‘poor’ flavour, while others tasted ‘very fair’ or ‘good’.
Beers described as brilliant were generally also found to taste good, though one was ‘poor’ and quite a few others were ‘fair’ (acceptable, with an overall score of 1).
UPDATE 13/2/2014: Ron has clarified in a comment below that the numerical scores are his addition, based on Whitbread’s more-or-less standardised flavour descriptors.
In other words, Whitbread’s tasters didn’t find any particular connection between clarity and flavour. Hazy beer wasn’t somehow better or more virtuous, but nor was it necessarily bad.
What we’d really like to know is whether customers in the pub would have shown a preference for the beer that looked ‘bright’ but had ‘unpleasant flavour, going off’.
Basil Oliver’s The Renaissance of the English Public House was published in 1949 1947 and argues that the period between the two World Wars was a golden age of pub design and building.
It is printed on post-war paper (rough and yellowing) but is crammed with photographs and floor-plans of specific pubs up and down the country.
In his introduction, Oliver observes that, in the period before World War I, new pub buildings were rare because of the ‘misguided idea… that to improve buildings was to encourage drinking’. He observes, however, that the prohibitionist urge actually triggered a great resurgence in pub design and building: when the state began to run the brewing and pub industry in Carlisle in 1916, ‘it permitted unhampered experiments in many directions, but especially in the evolution of the public house’.
An entire chapter of the book is given over to the Carlisle State Management scheme. During WWI, Oliver says, improvements were limited: the removal of hard-to-supervise snugs and ‘snuggeries’ (small compartments) to create ‘light and airy cheerfulness’. After the war, new buildings were commissioned, including The Gretna Tavern, which replaced (Oliver reckons) six ‘snug-type houses’. We could not help but think of Wetherspoon’s.
Away from specific pubs, the more general detail Oliver provides on contemporary pub culture offer a useful companion piece to the Mass Observation book The Pub and the People. On alternative names for the ‘public bar’, he observes that ‘Tap Room’ is out of fashion, and…
Saloon Bar has a faint suggestion of superiority, and is the haunt of the ‘toffs’ (or would-be toffs) but even they frequently require the inevitable darts-board. Smoking Room… is also popular.… Private Bar and Bar Parlour… are equally indicative of their purpose – private transactions and intimate conversations – and from being popular with the fair sex have virtually become, in many houses, a Women’s Bar.
The last, lingering remains of Victorian morality can be detected in a coy discussion of toilets: ladies’ and gentlemen’s lavatories, he insists, must be apart from each other, secluded, but also easy to supervise. (The horrifying fact that people of both sexes piss must be kept secret, but there should be no opportunities for hanky-panky either.) Even today, it occured to us, the easiest way to find the ladies’ toilet is usually to walk as far from the gents’ as possible, and vice versa.
As for beer, Oliver is quite clear: ‘From the consumer’s point of view, the ideal way of receiving his beer is direct “from the wood”, and – on a hot summer’s day – from a very cool cellar.’ Cellars, he suggests, should be cut off from the outside world, running with damp, have earth floors, and be exposed as much as possible to the cool soil beyond their walls. The ideal, he concedes, is rarely possible:
More likely is it that new ways of drawing draught beer will be invented for conditioning draught beer which will eliminate all the complicated paraphernalia of beer engines, air-pressure installations, flexible pipes…
The grand ‘Tudor mansions’ of Mitchells & Butlers in Birmingham are also granted a chapter of their own, highlighting the advantages to brewers of building on new sites rather than restoring old pub buildings: restaurants, car parks, gardens, and even bowling greens were common. London gets a chapter of its own, too, with the rest of the country, from Liverpool to Devon, wrapped up in two more general surveys of urban and ‘wayside’ pubs.
We spent a bit of time looking up pubs mentioned on Google Street View. Many are gone altogether. Others were rebuilt on the same scale but with less style. A few remain, but often defaced with plastic banners, ugly signage, and accumulated grime: the Apple Tree in Carlisle, featured in the big image at the top, is now ‘Pippins’, and still a handsome building.
For a rather specialised, technical book, Oliver’s prose is very readable, with the occasional amusing turn of phrase and impassioned diatribe. We paid around £20 for our copy, which is not in great condition, but it isn’t rare or hard-to-find. Depending on how interested you are in the detail of pub design and/or this particular period, that might seem a bit steep, but we enjoyed it.