Beer history pubs quotes

The Trouble With Mild Drinkers, 1938

“If you don’t want to drift you must conceive a strategy and stick to it. My policy here seems indicated by the Inn’s position on the map and in the Town — viz. a useful place for casual eaters and for nighters… and as the best Smoke Room in the Town. But what seems to obstruct this policy is the little knot of very loud-voiced mild-beer drinkers who stand in the dark at the bottom of the stairs, very pleasant people, very respectful, but yet their voices penetrate into every room up and down the house and the effect upon people who have to edge their way through them must be beery enough… [Now] that in an Inn can no longer live on drink… How and when to stop it?”

John Fothergill on the struggle to drag a pub ‘up market’ in his 1938 memoir Confession of an Innkeeper.

Beer history pubs

The Renaissance of the English Public House

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.

Cover: The Renaissance of the English Public House.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’.

County Arms, Blaby, near Leicester.
County Arms, Blaby, near Leicester.

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.

Beer history pubs

Beer geeks and buying local

Beer advert: Magee Marshall & Co, Bolton

The Mass Observation book The Pub and the People continues to offer eye-opening nuggets which suggest that beer and pubs aren’t so different now to how they were nearly eighty years ago.

1. Some landlords prided themselves on buying from small, local producers

The landlord here says he gets his beer from a small brewery in Derby Street. He doesn’t care for large breweries, he says: “It’s all done with chemicals”… beer from big breweries goes off in no time…

And why was this particular landlord so fussy? Because he’d identified a new market.

2. There were a small number of beer geeks

Most pub-goers simply drink the cheapest available beer, while a minority exist for whom quality is most important.

This statement is backed up an account from the same landlord quoted above of  the word-of-mouth buzz which surrounded a particularly well-matured barrel of bitter which sat in his cellar for six months before being tapped when a stranger visited the pub.

The stranger said that it was wonderful — ‘like wine’. This man took to calling in regularly for it, until the barrel was finished. It went soon because he told his friends, and they came in for it too.

Did he use Twitter or the Ratebeer forums? Or maybe he wrote about it on his blog?

Another drinker made this statement to the survey team:

There is, I think, many different brands of beer which so far I have not had the Pleasure of Tasting. Those I have, such as: Magee’s, Walker’s, Hamer’s, Cunningham’s, and one or two others, all have a nice Flavour… The Price question I will not Dispute, because I do not Drink Excessively, so I don’t favour any particular Beer.

Idiosyncratic prose style aside, isn’t that a familiar sounding beer geek statement?