London pubs from a woman’s perspective, 1964

A drawing of a pub.
The Kings Head and Eight Bells by John Cooper.

In 1964 Batsford published a guide to London with a twist: it was about where to go and what to do on sleepy Sundays. Such as, for example… visit the pub.

We picked up our copy of London on Sunday at Oxfam in Cotham for £3.99. It’s not a book we’ve ever encountered before, or even heard of.

We haven’t managed to find out much about the author, Betty James, either, except that she wrote a few other books, including London and the Single Girl, published in 1967, and London for Lovers, 1968. She was older than the girlish tone of the book might suggest – in her late forties, we gather – and twice divorced by the time she was profiled in the Newcastle Journal in 1969.

Before the main event, individual pubs crop up here and there – the Grapes in Wapping is accurately described as ‘an old sawdusty river pub’ where the staff give directions to a particularly good but hard-to-find Chinese restaurant.

One of the best lines in the book, thrown away in an itinerary for a walk, is, we’re certain, a dig at male guidebook writers of the period who couldn’t resist rating barmaids:

The Colville Tavern at 72 Kings Road… [has] the best-looking barman in London. Ask for Charles.

Pubs are given real, focused treatment in the dying pages of the book, which is a statement in its own right.

From Monday until Saturday this Sunday is the Local Public House of somebody else in whom once has no interest whatsoever. However… on Sunday at the hour of noon it is entered immediately by the knowledgeable tosspot in order that he may refresh himself in convivial company, while his wife cooks the joint to which he eventually return too late to avoid unpleasantness… Meanwhile, the regular visitor to this Sunday Pub (whose Local Public House it is from Monday until Saturday) will repair to another Sunday Pub because it is considered not schmaltzy to take drink in one’s own Local Public House upon a Sunday.

Inevitably, the first pub to get a write-up is the Grenadier, which we visited earlier this year:

This very old pub is impossible to find. You can wander around the chi-chi little mews surrounding it, absorbing the untraceable emanations of Guards subalterns and debutantes without actually ever seeing anything but a chi-chi little mews… A dread silence occasionally falls upon the place… [because] somebody has mislaid a debutante.

The Kings Head and Eight Bells in Chelsea sounds like fun, with people drinking outside in the embankment gardens on Sunday morning, or blocking the road ‘where they risk being knocked drinkless by other cognoscenti in fast sports job’. It is, Ms. James says, ‘exclusively patronised by absolutely everybody who isn’t anybody’. Sadly, this one seems to be a goner.

A drawing of a pub interior.
The interior of the Square Rigger by John Cooper.

Of course we got really excited at the description of a theme pub, the Square Rigger in the City, near Monument Station:

Fully rigged with seagull cries and the sound of breaking surf there is also an enormous social schism between the Captain’s Cabin and the Mess Decks both 1 and 2… ‘Tween decks there are rope ladders, sails, and yard-arms and that. Together with a lot of beautifully polished brass bar-top.

We see from whatpub.com that it was a notable booze bunker, before its demolition in the 1980s.

Back to those classic mews pubs of west London, the Star in Belgravia, of course, gets a mention, and rather a cheeky one: ‘Well now… The best thing we can say about this pub is that all the aforementioned missing debutantes may be discovered here… recovering… And some of them simply aching for the utter, utter blissikins of getting mislaid again as soon as possible’.

The Windsor Castle in Kensington apparently had ‘Luscious sandwiches’ and quite the scene going on, with actors in the bar and ‘a pig ogling a cow in the pleasant walled garden’.

The last pub tip is given reluctantly:

There is of course one Sunday Pub to which afficionados resort of a Sunday evening. However, it could so easily be completely ruined by hypermetropic invasion that I hardly like to mention it. This is the Lilliput Hall, a Courage’s house at 9 Jamaica Road SE1, where, at around 9 pm, commences the best not-too-far-out jazz this side of paradise. The hundred per cent professional group renderings are led by the guv’nor, Bert Annable, a name to be conjured with in the business, since he’s worked with Cyril Stapleton and Paul Fenoulhet, among others.

Sound like a laugh. Now, it goes without saying, flats, but the closedpubs.co.uk records some nice firsthand memories.

We reckon it’d have been quite nice to read an entire book about pubs by Betty James. She seems to have a feel for them, and her archness is amusing.

Bits We Underlined in… Surrey Pubs, 1965

Months later than its companion pieces here are the highlights from Surrey Pubs by Richard Keeble, published in 1965.

This is weird: we thought we’d written about all of these Batsford guides but it turns out that, though we annotated the book with 800 Post It notes, and even wrote most of the post, we never actually published it. Perhaps Sussex Pubs confused us. Anyway, better late than never…

Beer from the WoodSeveral pubs are mentioned as serving beer from the wood, such as The Whyte Harte and Bletchingley, Ye Olde Six Bells at Horley, the Jolly Farmer at Horne and the Swan at Thames Ditton, which had the best of all: Bass from the wood.

Drummond Arms, Albury – Proto-craft-beer-bar: ‘There is a choice of forty-seven different bottled beers and there are some outstanding wines on the list.’ The draught beer list included Friary Meux ‘Treble Gold’, a pale ale that perhaps bolsters the argument for ‘golden ale’ having existed as a vague idea long before Exmoor and Hop Back crystallised and marketed the concept.

Plough Inn, Bletchingley‘The landlord here… is a qualified optician… [Ask him] to show your how to play “shutterbox”, a game he brought to this district.’ (Shut the Box?)

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Bits We Underlined in… Kent Pubs, 1966

This is the last of the 1960s Batsford pub guides we’ve be digesting over the last few months and it’s a good one.

Unlike some of his colleagues on this project, D.B. Tubbs (Douglas Burnell ‘Bunny’ Tubbs?) attempts some humour in his writing, apparently inspired by Alan Reeve-Jones’s first entry, London Pubs, from 1962. Where Reeve-Jones featured his fictional Commander Xerxes McGill in every other entry (frankly, rather tediously), Tubbs has an equally fictional tome of pub lore, Hogmanay’s  Etymology of the Bar (unpublished). He also uses some interesting turns of phrase, a couple of which we might nick, e.g.:

  • Beermanship — to be brushed up on in any pub with a choice of draught bitter.
  • Neo — self-consciously modern pub design or decor.
  • Loungery — when Neo goes bad.
  • Oldworlderye — e.g. a buffet bar described as ‘Ye Snackerie’.
  • Hinterlanders — people from the outer edges of London.
  • Wooden bitter/wooden beer — beer from the wood, AKA traditional draught, AKA ‘real ale’.

And if you can finish this book and not find yourself thirsting for a pint of his favourite bitter from Tomson & Wooton of Ramsgate, 1634-1968, ‘with a real bitter tang’, then you’ve got a stronger will than either of us. (Their X India sounds interesting, too.)

Preface — ‘[Some pubs] have been left out for reasons that you would understand if you had been there with me. Sometimes it was the beer, sometimes the welcome and occasionally the quote food unquote.’

Crown & Sceptre, Acol — ‘[The landlord] has adopted a parrot… This polychromatic bird lies on its back, crosses his (or her) legs to order, and can pick up a beer bottle with his (or her) beak.’

Walnut Tree, Aldington — ‘The pub has an almost untouched example of a medieval kitchen.’ The pub website today has no mention of an historic kitchen.

Malta Inn, Allington Lock — ‘The beer is served not from the wood but from the bottom of the cask by “by computer”.’ No further elaboration is given but we assume he means they used electric pumps.

Blue Bell, Beltring — ‘A Fremlins house opposite Whitbread’s main farm… There is still a good deal of knees-up-Mother-Brown but far fewer hop picking customers than there used to be because machines don’t drink. At one time the landlord used to shut the public bar, fill a bath with beer and pass the pints out through the window.’ Somewhat reminiscent scenes can be seen at the Blue Anchor in Helston on Flora Day when beer is served direct from the cask at the door of the cellar via plastic pipe.

The Old Cellars, Tenterden, as drawn by Alan F. Turner.
The Old Cellars, Tenterden, as drawn by Alan F. Turner for Kent Pubs.

Woodman’s Arms, Bodsham — ‘The landlord, Mr Bob Harvey… understands beer. Eight years ago, when he first arrived, a retired publican friend said: “The secret of keeping beer and ale, my lad, is to order it in advance so it can lay for two weeks before you tap it.” This hint he has taken ever since…. Only one brew is stocked so that it is always in condition… If you want a testimonial as the Romany regular called Bill. He drinks 22 pints of bitter every Saturday night then bicycles soberly home.’

Prince Louis, Dover — ‘The walls are fastened together at present by pictures, photographs, postcards, pennants, pistols, lifebuoys, model ships and aeroplanes, cartridges, tracts, beer-mats and incendiary bombs, nailed, pinned, screwed, glued and otherwise attached, rather in the fashion of Dirty Dick’s.’ Dirty Dick’s is arguably the original ‘collection pub’, a precursor of the 20th century theme pub.

George, Egerton — ‘in winter mulled ale’. A living tradition in this part of the world, or a bit of affected ‘oldworlderye’? (Also at the Smugglers Inn, Herne.)

Vigo, Fairseat — ‘Do you play Daddlums?’ Googles Daddlums; no. ‘If so, you may be running short of opportunities because there aren’t many Kentish pubs where it is still played; if not, start at the Vigo.’ Bad news: though the link above says the Vigo still has its Daddlums table… it is now closed pending a planning decision to turn it into a private house.

King’s Head, Crafty Green — ‘Having been a tea and rubber planter in Ceylon Mr R.E. Jackson makes a speciality of Ceylon curries, which are cooked by his wife with spices specially imported from Ceylon and vegetables in season from Bombay.’ Yet another curry pub — this, it turns out, may have been ‘a thing’.

Bell, Ivychurch — ‘and fried chicken on Saturday nights’. So this wasn’t something introduced to pubs by trend-chasers in the last decade or so?

Three Horseshoes, Lower Hardres — ‘Grills and a good dish called Beef fondue… a good gobble.’ Has fondue made a comeback in hip pubs yet, or is still 70s Dinner Party naff?

George & Dragon, Speldhurst — ‘How about that drink, though? Star (Eastbourne) light mild and old ale; Fremlins’ Three Star Bitter, Worthington on draught. By pressure Flowers’ Keg, Whitbread Tankard, Watney’s Red Barrel, Double Diamond, and draught Guinness, plus Tuborg lager. Two draught ciders, four draught sherries, six malt whiskies…’ And so on. A quick glance at a couple of 1970s editions of CAMRA’s Good Beer Guide suggests it didn’t retain its reputation as a beer destination.

Northfield House, Speldhurst — ‘The mild and bitter are well kept, and served straight from the wood, and if you don’t know the difference that makes you shouldn’t be drinking draught beer at all.’ Oof! A hard line, that.

Hole in the Wall, Tunbridge Wells — ‘[A] very special case, being not an ordinary pub but the back room of Mr Allman’s tobacconist’s shop. It used in Vic. times to be called “The Central Cigar Divan”, and still has its mahogany and black leather divans and a brass gas-jet lighter on the wall for gentlemen wishing to partake of the weed.’ (a) Central Cigar Divan — hipster bar name! (b) Not that type of weed. (c) Sounds fascinating but… it’s gone.

Pepperbox, Ulcombe — ‘Inns with an unusual name are often good.’ Discuss, 12 pts.

Victoria, Wye — ‘[In] the beer-drinking contest at the Victoria… the brisker drinkers achieve a four-second pint, and acrobatic frolics are to be seen with a double-decker counterbalanced beer mug mounted in gimbals.’ Responsible drinking! We’re struggling to picture this steampunk-sounding contraption.

Hooden Horse [sic], Wickhambreaux — ‘One of the regulars is a one-eyed swan named Nelson who lives down the road. It is quite respectable to see him, even after a long session.’ A friend of Lucifer the alcoholic donkey, perhaps? And who was asking a few years ago about the origins of the phrase ‘session beer’?

Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Pubs, 1965

As promised, we’re continuning to plough through those 1960s Batsford pub guides underlining interesting nuggets: this time, it’s the turn of John Camp’s Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Pubs.

Pub guides aren’t really designed to be read, and long stretches of this one are pretty dry, but there was just enough salt in the caramel to keep us going to the end.

Part 1: Oxfordshire

The Lambert Arms, Aston Rowant: ‘Special drinks’ include Courage’s E.I.P.A. — would that be East India Pale Ale? The beer index at the back doesn’t elaborate and this is the only pub in the book serving it.

The Inn Within, Banbury: ‘It is a free house, but might better be described as a “free-for-all” house. Victorian in design, one of the several barn-like bars is decorated almost entirely with mirrors, the result being an impression of being in the centre of a long series of identical rooms stretching away into the void.’ An early use of ‘barn-like’, there, now frequently applied to Wetherspoon pubs and similar. Was this Scaramanga’s Fun House arrangement not confusing to drunks? ‘At various times one may enjoy roller-skating, all-in wrestling, or simply relax and watch a boxing match!’ (There’s more on all this at the Banbury Guardian.)

The Reindeer, Banbury: ‘The great glory of The Reindeer was, at one time, the Globe Room… [with] magnificent plaster ceiling and panelling said to have been designed by Inigo Jones. Ceiling and panelling were removed and sold to an American collector, but before this act of desecration could be completed an enlightened corporation bought them back, and happily they remain in this country… Unhappily there were not re-installed in the Globe Room.’ A rare bit of good news: eventually, they were.

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Bits We Underlined In… Sussex Pubs, 1966

We’re reading every page of every one of those Batsford pub guides. This time, it’s Rodney L. Walkerley’s Sussex Pubs published in 1966.

The Victory, Arundel: ‘In addition to the ales and stouts there is a surprising assembly of genuine continental lagers…’ This would be notable even today, especially outside major cities.

The Castle Inn, Bodiam: We knew that Guinness owned a pub — just the one — but had no idea where, and had never got round to Googling. But here it is, right next to the brewery’s own UK hop farm‘After the First World War it was leased to Lord Curzon and later, by the National Trust, to Trust Houses… and then to the Guinness company, who possibly wanted to discover if running a pub was as good for them as their advertising assures us their stout is for the consumer.’

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