London pubs in the 1960s

The cover of the New London Spy (1966)
The cov­er of the New Lon­don Spy (1966)

Bea­t­les biog­ra­ph­er Hunter DaviesNew Lon­don Spy was pub­lished in 1966. It’s a trav­el guide aimed at cool peo­ple, and an excel­lent win­dow onto the city at the height of its hip­ness.

In his lengthy sec­tion on pubs, Davies makes some inter­est­ing obser­va­tions:

Pubs are what oth­er coun­tries don’t have. In Eng­land, coun­try pubs are per­haps nicest of all. After that come the Lon­don ones.

Pubs change char­ac­ter as you tip­ple down from the top of Britain. In the dry areas of Skye you have none at all. In Glas­gow they are just drink­ing shops. In Carlisle they are cheer­less and state con­trolled.

But in Lon­don, there are pubs for all men and for all sea­sons.

He then goes on to clas­si­fy London’s pubs into six cat­e­gories:

  • rough pubs
  • posh pubs
  • arty pubs
  • pubs for unac­com­pa­nied men (“not queers”)
  • pubs for unac­com­pa­nied women
  • pubs asso­ci­at­ed with crime.

His descrip­tions of var­i­ous posh pubs and of some of the pubs he rec­om­mends for women sug­gest that gas­tro-pubs had their gen­e­sis in this era – “serves very decent food, far bet­ter than the aver­age pub meal (though nat­u­ral­ly priced accord­ing­ly)”; “both set­ting and clien­tele are almost exag­ger­at­ed­ly deco­rous”.

A London pub, as illustrated by Kaffe Fassett for the New London Spy
A Lon­don pub, as illus­trat­ed by Kaffe Fas­sett

It is the so-called rough pubs that sound most intrigu­ing, though. Dirty Dicks oppo­site Liv­er­pool Street had dead cats, cob­webs and saw­dust for decor. Char­lie Brown’s (the Rail­way Tav­ern) on West India Dock Road housed a “col­lec­tion of Curiosa” from all around the world (sad­ly sold off in the late 60s). And of the Steps (the Cus­tom House Hotel) on Vic­to­ria Dock Road, Davies says: “It is not unusu­al to see some­body almost kicked to death out­side.”

The illus­tra­tions in the book are by world-famous knit­ting pat­tern design­er Kaffe Fas­sett. You can pick up a copy of the New Lon­don Spy for next to noth­ing at if you want to read more.

The Three Mariners, West India Quay

The Three Mariners pub
The Three Mariners pub in the dock­lands gloom

The Three Mariner’s pub sits in a maze of dark cob­bled alley­ways not far from the Thames. The smell of fish, tar and sea-water is pow­er­ful, and you can hear the shouts of Thames boat­men, the clat­ter­ing of masts and the clat­ter of car­go being unloaded on the dock­side.

The pub looks invit­ing, can­dlelit and cosy, promis­ing shel­ter from the gloomy and rather intim­i­dat­ing wharf­side rat runs.

It’s small – there’s only one table and two chairs – but there’s plen­ty of lean­ing space at the bar.

Behind the bar, there are tankards and stone mugs, and four unla­belled hand pumps. There are crates filled with bot­tles of porter stacked against the back wall.

It’s like the pubs Sher­lock Holmes vis­its in the Basil Rath­bone films of the 1940s and the atmos­phere is ter­rif­ic.

Sad­ly, you can’t actu­al­ly have a pint at the Mariner’s Arms. It’s part of a per­ma­nent exhib­it at the Muse­um in Dock­lands, near Canary Wharf, and rep­re­sents a typ­i­cal 19th cen­tu­ry sailors’ pub. It’s worth a vis­it if you’re inter­est­ed in the his­to­ry of Lon­don, espe­cial­ly as they’ve got an exhi­bi­tion on Jack the Rip­per until Novem­ber. It’s not as creepy as it sounds – it’s real­ly an exhi­bi­tion of East End life and polic­ing in the 1880s. We espe­cial­ly liked the map of London’s pubs pro­duced by the Tem­per­ance Soci­ety in the 1880s. It’s enti­tled sim­ply “The Mod­ern Plague of Lon­don”. There’s an extract of it avail­able here.


Book review – Tales of Old Inns

The cover of the 1951 edition of <em>Tales of Old Inns</em> by Richard Keverne
The cov­er of the 1951 edi­tion of Tales of Old Inns by Richard Kev­erne

Richard Keverne’s guide to England’s his­toric inns was first pub­lished in 1939. Ham­mond Innes revised the book in 1947. In his intro­duc­tion, Innes makes the rather poignant obser­va­tion that a new edi­tion was need­ed not only to help return­ing ser­vice­men reac­quaint them­selves with the coun­try they’d fought to defend, but also to edit out men­tion of pubs which were destroyed by bomb­ing dur­ing the war.

There’s fur­ther poignan­cy in read­ing about pubs which have great his­to­ries; which, in 1951, were still charm­ing; but which are now pla­s­ticky chain pubs sell­ing microwaved food (The Fer­ry Boat Inn, Tot­ten­ham, for exam­ple).

For all this book has about it the whiff of con­ser­vatism (there are lots of wist­ful com­ments about the sim­plic­i­ty of life in the ‘old days’) the author is sur­pris­ing­ly sym­pa­thet­ic to the motives of gen­er­a­tions of innkeep­ers who destroyed the his­toric inte­ri­ors of their pubs for com­mer­cial rea­sons.

Of par­tic­u­lar inter­est to beer geeks are the rare pas­sages which actu­al­ly touch on beer. The Bell at Orford Hill in Nor­folk, for exam­ple, was appar­ent­ly a pio­neer­ing out­let for porter in the 1750s:

Sam Bark­er [the land­lord]… also appre­ci­at­ed the use of adver­tise­ment. He adver­tised the then com­par­i­tive­ly new malt liquor, porter. “A tru­ly British liquor,” he called it, of which he had “a large quan­ti­ty always bot­tled and fit to drink.” He offered it at five shillings a dozen (thir­teen bot­tles to the dozen) or three shillings if you returned the bot­tles.

Kev­erne also tells us that the Sun Hotel in Hitchin, Hert­ford­shire, was typ­i­cal in hav­ing its own brew­ery in the 18th cen­tu­ry:

You should not leave the Sun with­out wan­der­ing through its big gar­dens, and see­ing how the old malt and brew hous­es, alas! no longer in use, reminders of the days when the inn brewed its own beer. Then you will realise how vast were the resources of the big coach­ing house.

On the whole, it’s just a long list of pubs con­nect­ed by vague anec­dotes, usu­al­ly unsourced, about Regency dandies and pub land­lords. It’s not much use as a trav­el guide unless you are par­tic­u­lar­ly inter­est­ed in pub archi­tec­ture. Nonethe­less, it does give a great sense of just how much of a part of Britain’s infra­struc­ture pubs (but specif­i­cal­ly inns) real­ly were, and read­ing about one vil­lage pub after anoth­er is almost as relax­ing as spend­ing an after­noon in one.


You can get copies of this book from around 80p at We bought our copy in an Oxfam book shop.

My great grandma and the temperance movement

Boak (the baby...) and her great granny, a few years back.
Boak (the baby) with grand­ma and great-grand­ma

My great-grand­ma was born in Step­ney in 1901. Sad­ly, I didn’t real­ly get to know her before she died, so this anec­dote comes via my mum.

Like oth­er chil­dren of that time and place*, my great-grand­ma was often dis­patched to the pub to get some beer for fam­i­ly mem­bers, in this case her grand­ma. How­ev­er, when she was around 10 or 12 (before the First World War, at least) she took ‘The Pledge’ and joined the tem­per­ance move­ment. There­after, she refused to get any beer ever again.

I don’t know why this sto­ry tick­les me – pos­si­bly the fact that some­thing so “Dick­en­sian” as kids fetch­ing alco­hol was actu­al­ly in liv­ing mem­o­ry until recent­ly, or pos­si­bly it’s the idea of pre-teens swear­ing to abstain from alco­hol. Or maybe it’s just the evi­dence of a con­trary stub­born streak that per­sists down the female line to this day…

I’d raise a glass to her, but she’d prob­a­bly turn in her grave.


*OK, I don’t have evi­dence that this was com­mon prac­tice, but Zythophile men­tions a sim­i­lar fam­i­ly sto­ry here, and here Ron has col­lect­ed extracts from Charles Booth’s inter­views in the 1890s with Lon­don pub­li­cans and brew­ers – which is an absolute­ly fas­ci­nat­ing read – which men­tions this on a num­ber of occa­sions.

Brewing in the 1960s

As hap­pens every now and then, some­one has come across an old post and left a fas­ci­nat­ing com­ment which we want­ed to bring everyone’s atten­tion to.

Tony used to work for Starkey, Knight and Ford, the West Coun­try brew­ers, in the 1960s, work­ing in the keg shop and lat­er deliv­er­ing beer. He says:

As a stu­dent I worked for Starkey‘s each sum­mer betwen 1965 and 1967. The first two years at the Fore St. site in Tiver­ton and the last at the new site. Bridg­wa­ter had closed by then and Tiver­ton was the only brew­ery still in action but under the aegis of Whit­bread. I used to start off in the keg shop before fid­dling my way out onto the lor­ries. In my last year our route cov­ered from Ivy­bridge to Rooks­bridge and from Seaton to Barn­sta­ple the lor­ry was DPF 473B and still had the Bridge­wa­ter address on the side. As I remem­ber Starkey‘s had depots in Barn­sta­ple and Ply­mouth, a firm called Nor­man and Pring were involved. When I was in the keg plant we most­ly dealt with Tankard with occa­sion­al runs of mild. Each artic trail­er held 187 10 gal­lon kegs and the 6 wheel Den­nis 150 (I had to load these on my own!) I also remem­ber dur­ing their inde­pen­dent days Starkey‘s brewed a keg beer called “Tan­tivy.” Some years before I deliv­ered papers to Tom Ford the Chair­man. He drove an old Ford(!) V8 which used to mis­fire every so often.

Fas­ci­nat­ing stuff – thanks Tony!

We’re imag­in­ing Tony’s expe­ri­ences to have played out to a sound­track of Green Onions by Book­er T and the MGs, although we might be con­fus­ing real­i­ty with an episode of Heart­beat.