Osbert Lancaster on Pubs, 1938

Osbert Lancaster, 1908–1986, was an influential cartoonist and cultural commentator who specialised in explaining architecture to the layman.

His work isn’t all that easy to come by and, in fact, a col­lec­tion of his work pub­lished in 1959, reprint­ed by the Read­ers’ Union in 1960, enti­tled Here, of All Places, is the first of his books we’ve ever actu­al­ly come across for sale.

It’s fun stuff, each dou­ble-page spread includ­ing a pithy note on some facet of archi­tec­tur­al his­to­ry and a car­toon to bring it to life. For exam­ple, ‘By-Pass Var­ie­gat­ed’ is his name for a par­tic­u­lar type of semi-detached sub­ur­ban house, while he sum­maris­es post-war Amer­i­can cityscapes, blight­ed by adver­tis­ing, as ‘Coca-Colo­nial’.

The entry that grabbed our atten­tion was, of course, ‘Pub­lic-House Clas­sic’, which first appeared in his 1938 book Pil­lar to Post.

A drawing of a Victorian pub.
Osbert Lancaster’s draw­ing of a typ­i­cal Vic­to­ri­an pub.

That’s a love­ly image – we have a strong urge to tear it out and frame it, but don’t wor­ry, we won’t – and the prose that goes with it is almost as good. Here’s how it opens:

In the ear­li­er part of the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry it was assumed, and right­ly, that a lit­tle healthy vul­gar­i­ty and full-blood­ed osten­ta­tion were not out of place in the archi­tec­ture and dec­o­ra­tion of a pub­lic-house, and it was dur­ing this peri­od that the tra­di­tion gov­ern­ing the appear­ance of the Eng­lish pub was evolved. While the main body of the build­ing con­formed to the rules gov­ern­ing South Kens­ing­ton Ital­ianate, it was always enlivened by the addi­tion of a num­ber of dec­o­ra­tive adjuncts which, though sim­i­lar in gen­er­al form, dis­played an end­less and fas­ci­nat­ing vari­ety of treat­ment.

He goes on to praise the engraved win­dows, giant lanterns and beau­ti­ful­ly paint­ed signs that char­ac­terised Vic­to­ri­an pubs at their best, and exam­ples of which you can still (just about) see around in 2019.

The sec­ond half of the entry, how­ev­er, is a lament for this style. First, he says, it was replaced in the late nine­teenth cen­tu­ry by a self-con­scious­ly cul­tured facade of elab­o­rate brick­work and ‘encaus­tic tiling’; and then, in the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry, by…

a poi­so­nous refine­ment which found expres­sion in olde worlde half-tim­ber­ing and a gen­er­al atmos­phere of cot­tagey cheer­i­ness. For­tu­nate­ly a num­ber of the old-fash­ioned pubs still sur­vive in the less fash­ion­able quar­ters, but the major­i­ty of them are doubt­less doomed and will be short­ly replaced by taste­ful erec­tions in By-Pass Eliz­a­bethan or Brew­ers’ Geor­gian styles.

In 1938, big improved pubs were still being built, though the war stopped that in its tracks. We won­der what he made of post-war pubs – plain, small, point­ed­ly mod­ern. He was cer­tain­ly snarky about mod­ernist archi­tec­ture in gen­er­al, call­ing it ‘Twen­ti­eth-Cen­tu­ry Func­tion­al’:

[The] style which now emerged was one of the utmost aus­ter­i­ty, rely­ing for its effect on plan­ning and pro­por­tion alone, and faith­ful­ly ful­fill­ing the one con­di­tion to which every impor­tance was attached, of ‘fit­ness for pur­pose.’ Admirable as were the results in the case of fac­to­ries, air­ports, hos­pi­tals and oth­er util­i­tar­i­an build­ings, when the same prin­ci­ple was applied to domes­tic archi­tec­ture, the suc­cess was not always so marked.

And there’s an inter­est­ing point: pubs are, or ought to be, con­sid­ered domes­tic, not util­i­tar­i­an, vital as they are, right? Which is what all this talk of Prop­er Pubs is real­ly get­ting at.

And odd post­script to Lancaster’s brief note on pub archi­tec­ture is that thir­ty years lat­er, he revis­it­ed the con­cept for the cov­er of a book, Pub, edit­ed by Angus McGill and spon­sored by the Brew­ers’ Soci­ety.

The cover of 'Pub', 1969.

At first, we thought it was the same draw­ing but, no, it’s a dif­fer­ent piece alto­geth­er, even if the same street trum­peter makes a cameo, stand­ing under a famil­iar wrought-iron lantern.

You can buy sec­ond­hand copies of From Pil­lar to Post and Here, of All Places at quite rea­son­able prices online; and there’s a nice-look­ing reprint from Pim­per­nel Press.

The Magic Guinness Blend c.1939

Cover of the Guinness brewing manual.

When a colleague of mine told me that her father had been head brewer at Guinness’s London brewery and wondered if I might be interested in seeing his papers, I got a bit excited.

Final­ly, months lat­er, we got round to vis­it­ing to check out what was in her col­lec­tion. Based on a quick audit the answer is: every­thing.

We’ve agreed to take pos­ses­sion of the whole lot, cat­a­logue it, copy bits we might be able to use for our own research, and then help with arrange­ments to have the impor­tant bits tak­en into appro­pri­ate archives.

For now, though, here’s a nugget from the hand­ful of doc­u­ments we brought away with us on Wednes­day night: insid­er info on how Guin­ness gained its once leg­endary com­plex­i­ty at the blend­ing stage.

This comes from a typed doc­u­ment in a plain brown wrap­per writ­ten in 1939 and updat­ed to take account of wartime brew­ing restric­tions. The copy we have seems to come from around 1943 but was in appar­ent­ly still in cir­cu­la­tion in the 1950s.

The first page bears the title ‘The Process of Brew­ing Guin­ness’ and the 46 pages that fol­low offer detailed notes on the basics of beer mak­ing (how hops are dried, for exam­ple) as well as specifics about Guin­ness.

Section header: "making up".

Here’s the sec­tion on ‘Mak­ing Up’:

Beer in stor­age vats [after fer­men­ta­tion] is quite flat and is cloudy and bit­ter and unin­ter­est­ing to taste. Before it is ready for sale it must be ‘Made up’… Beer from say six dif­fer­ent brews forms the basis. These are cho­sen in such pro­por­tions that when mixed with unfer­ment­ed beer (i.e. wort that has been pitched but not allowed to fer­ment) known as gyle, their residues added to the fer­mentable mat­ter of the gyle will give a suit­able ‘Prime’. ‘Prime’ is the fer­mentable mat­ter in beer after mak­ing up just as ‘Residue’ is the fer­mentable mat­ter as the beer enters the stor­age vat. It is mea­sured as the dif­fer­ence between the present grav­i­ty of the beer and its per­fect pri­ma­ry.

In addi­tion to these beers there are added:–

  1. Barm beer: this is the beer which is skimmed off from the skim­mers with the yeast and is sep­a­rat­ed from the yeast in a fil­ter press. It is intense­ly bit­ter but adds very mate­ri­al­ly to the flavour of the flat, unin­ter­est­ing stor­age vat beer.
  2. O.B.S.: old beer stor­age is old acid beer that, like barm beer, improves the flavour of the fin­ished beer although it is itself very unpleas­ant.
  3. Draw­ing: these are residues of made up beer which was not bright enough to put into the trade with­out fur­ther treat­ment. It is exact­ly sim­i­lar in com­po­si­tion to made up beer.
  4. Fin­ings: this is a solu­tion of isin­glass in stor­age vat beer. Only minute traces of isin­glass are required but it brings about the very rapid sed­i­men­ta­tion of all the float­ing par­ti­cles which make the beer cloudy.

All the con­stituents of the make up are pumped into a ‘Rack­ing Vat’ togeth­er and there allowed to stand for 24–48 hours.

So, there you have it. We sort of knew the gist of this but this is the most explic­it expla­na­tion of the process we’ve seen in writ­ing from a pri­ma­ry source, we think.

News, Nuggets & Longreads 7 April 2018: Tap Rooms, Masculinity, The Luppit

Here’s all the writing and news about beer and pubs that grabbed our attention in the past week, from Chicago to Rochdale. But we’ll start with some bits of news.


Detail from an advert for Skol, 1960.

For Punch Gray Chap­man takes a deep look into atti­tudes around gen­der in rela­tion to beer, inspired by Helana Darwin’s research that we men­tioned in one of these round-ups a few weeks ago. The arti­cle is called ‘What We Talk About When We Talk About “Bitch Beer”’:

Beer is inex­tri­ca­bly tan­gled up in gen­der, and no one under­stands this bet­ter than the women who choose to drink it. Much of its his­to­ry is root­ed in a blue-col­lar, can­vas cov­er­alls-tinged vision of mas­culin­i­ty that’s still evi­dent in almost every aspect of its sup­ply chain; label art com­mon­ly recalls Axe Body Spray at best, car­toon porn at worst. Less aggres­sive but more ubiq­ui­tous is the prac­ti­cal­ly algo­rith­mic aes­thet­ic of craft beer bars, with their ware­house-indus­tri­al inte­ri­ors and a Ron Swan­son-esque pen­chant for rough-hewn wood and leather, evok­ing a nos­tal­gia for a time and place where Real Men and their work-cal­loused hands made things.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “News, Nuggets & Lon­greads 7 April 2018: Tap Rooms, Mas­culin­i­ty, The Lup­pit”

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

Partial Pub Preservation: Hermit Micropubs?

Many historic pub building are too big to be sustainable but could micropubs be the answer to their salvation rather than, as now, merely added competition?

We’ve been think­ing quite a lot about the prob­lem of big old pubs in recent years. Many of them, espe­cial­ly those built between the wars, were con­struct­ed on the prin­ci­ple that one smart new pub replac­ing five old beer­hous­es was the way for­ward – eas­i­er to man­age, eas­i­er to police, brighter and more airy. In prac­tice, that wasn’t con­ducive to cre­at­ing atmos­phere, and they were both dif­fi­cult and expen­sive to main­tain as build­ings. Which is why so many are now branch­es of Tesco or McDonald’s or what­ev­er.

In 2014, we sug­gest­ed this might be prefer­able to aban­don­ment or dere­lic­tion because at least the build­ing is occu­pied and cared for, and can be appre­ci­at­ed in its set­ting, even if you can’t get a pint. But, in emo­tion­al terms, it is sad to see, and we kept won­der­ing if there might be some way to keep at least one part of those pubs oper­at­ing for the ben­e­fit of booz­ers, behind a prop­er pub-like facade.

Then research­ing the new book (all good book­shops, always be clos­ing, etc. etc.) we vis­it­ed the Fel­low­ship in Belling­ham, south Lon­don, and heard about the cur­rent own­ers’ prag­mat­ic plans to divide the vast build­ing for use not only as a pub but also as a music rehearsal space, a micro­brew­ery, a cin­e­ma, and so on.

At the same time, we’ve got to know microp­ubs – in fact, our new local, the Draper’s in Bris­tol, is a notable exam­ple of the trend. At their best, they can feel more pub­by than many echo­ing, emp­ty, over-grand pubs, focused as they are on beer and not much else. And, as pas­sion projects, they often come with a warm glow and unique char­ac­ter miss­ing from cor­po­rate, man­aged estab­lish­ments, hark­ing back to the days of Thompson’s Beer­house.

So, putting two and two togeth­er, here’s our sug­ges­tion: devel­op­ers in the process of con­vert­ing pubs for oth­er uses should be encour­aged to make one part of the build­ing avail­able for use as a microp­ub, even if the rest becomes a fast food out­let, super­mar­ket or nurs­ery. After all, most of the pubs we’re talk­ing about have, or had, mul­ti­ple rooms and cer­tain­ly mul­ti­ple doors, so the sep­a­ra­tion between res­i­den­tial occu­piers and/or shop cus­tomers ought to be quite easy.

The Greenford Hotel, west London.

Quib­ble #1: ‘Devel­op­ers are mer­ce­nary cyn­ics – why would they ever do this?’ Per­haps for the same rea­sons they chose to include a brew­pub at the West­field Shop­ping Cen­tre in Strat­ford. (DISCLOSURE: Boak’s lit­tle broth­er works at Tap East.) That is, part­ly because beer is cool and hav­ing a pub/bar/brewery on site sells the ‘expe­ri­ence’; and part­ly because it helps with plan­ning nego­ti­a­tions – a con­tri­bu­tion to the com­mu­ni­ty in exchange for the right to invade its space and change the char­ac­ter of the area. In oth­er words, it’s a PR exer­cise, but that’s fine by us if the out­come is any­thing oth­er than no pub at all.

Quib­ble #2: ‘Microp­ubs are awful – mid­dle-class, mid­dle-aged, not prop­er pubs.’ This would be some­where in between, wouldn’t it? It would prob­a­bly – hope­ful­ly – keep the old name and sign; and might even, if we’re lucky, retain at least part of the pub’s orig­i­nal inte­ri­or, even if the rest has been turned over to self-ser­vice cus­tomer inter­ac­tion nodes. And the per­ceived mid­dle-class­ness of microp­ubs (debat­able) helps with the plan­ning nego­ti­a­tions as what is thought (right­ly or wrong­ly) to be a respectable type of pub replaces pubs that have invari­ably become the very oppo­site.

Quib­ble #3: ‘This is Quis­ling col­lab­o­ra­tion with the ene­my! No com­pro­mise!’ Skilled, deter­mined cam­paign­ers with the sup­port of her­itage organ­i­sa­tions and local gov­ern­ment can win this kind of bat­tle to keep pubs going, and it seems to be hap­pen­ing more and more often, but there are still places where forc­ing a huge old pub to remain a huge old pub, though it might feel like a vic­to­ry, is just pro­long­ing the mis­ery. A pub with room for 300 drinkers, but where 300 drinkers are not be found in the sur­round­ing streets, is going to strug­gle even if it is saved. But there might be 30 poten­tial reg­u­lars, if not in the imme­di­ate area then per­haps a lit­tle beyond, such is the allure of the microp­ub to a cer­tain kind of drinker. This is a way of keep­ing a foot in the door.

But, any­way, this is us think­ing aloud again in the hope that (a) peo­ple might tell us if and where this has already hap­pened or (b) point us to, say, plan­ning doc­u­ments which explain why it hasn’t. So, go for it!