An Extraordinary Gentleman: the Brand New Victorian Pubs of Roddy Gradidge

MAIN IMAGE: The Markham Arms in 1976 © Klaus Hiltsch­er, used with per­mis­sion.

The architect and interior designer Roderick ‘Roddy’ Gradidge was both a conservative and a wannabe Teddy Boy proto-punk. Though he worked on all kinds of buildings, and wrote several books, he is usually described in short-form as one thing: a pub designer.

We’ve put togeth­er this pro­file based on the news­pa­per archives we were able to access, online sources, and the books in the ever-expand­ing Arthur Mil­lard Memo­r­i­al Library (our box room). As such, con­sid­er it a work in progress: when we get chance, for exam­ple, we’ll vis­it the RIBA library and see if we can come up with a more com­pre­hen­sive list of his projects. Here’s what we know for now.

John Rod­er­ick War­low Gra­didge was born in Nor­folk in 1929 but grew up in India where his father served in the colo­nial army. Young Rod­er­ick came back to Eng­land in 1943 to attend Stowe under the head­mas­ter­ship of J.F. Rox­burgh. Writ­ing in the after­math of Gradidge’s death the writer A.N. Wil­son, a friend, sug­gest­ed that Rox­burgh was a key influ­ence on Gradidge’s char­ac­ter:

When one thinks of the flam­boy­ant gallery of tal­ent fos­tered by that school­mas­ter – Pere­grine Worsthorne, Antony Quin­ton, George Mel­ly, – it is hard not to feel some con­nec­tion.

Flam­boy­ant is cer­tain­ly the right word: Gra­didge, who every­one describes as ‘huge’ or ‘mas­sive’, start­ed wear­ing an ear­ring in 1955 and ‘longed to be a Ted­dy boy’, don­ning the uni­form drape jack­et, side­burns, tight trousers and suede broth­el-creep­ers and devot­ing him­self to rock’n’roll.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “An Extra­or­di­nary Gen­tle­man: the Brand New Vic­to­ri­an Pubs of Rod­dy Gra­didge”

QUICK ONE: One Function of a Pump-Clip

Handpumps at a Bristol pub.

A huge, gaudy, distinctive pump-clip is the speculative pub-explorer’s friend.

For ben­e­fit of read­ers from Mars, pump-clips are the badges dis­played on han­dles in pubs. They bare­ly exist­ed until about 50 years ago but now they’re ubiq­ui­tous, increas­ing­ly ornate, and increas­ing­ly huge.

Which, though some may scoff, is great for peo­ple like us whose favourite way of find­ing pubs is wan­der­ing about with feel­ers twitch­ing.

In Top­sham the oth­er week, research­ing our Devon Life col­umn, we saw a pleas­ant look­ing pub but with only lim­it­ed time before our train had to make a snap deci­sion about whether to pop in. From the street, through glass, across sev­er­al metres of floor-space, we could recog­nise the brands on offer and see that they weren’t ter­ri­bly excit­ing. With­out stop­ping, we were able to make a quick deci­sion to push on some­where else instead.

Equal­ly, though, there are times when we’ve slammed the brakes on because one of us has sub­con­scious­ly reg­is­tered a hit in the data­base: wait – was that the clip for Rooster’s Yan­kee back there in The Union? (They’ve nev­er had it on again since; it was glo­ri­ous.)

In lieu of pubs dis­play­ing a list out­side, which is ide­al, a bank of pumps vis­i­ble from the street, with bold clips on dis­play, is the next best thing.

And brew­ers: if your pump-clips are gener­ic, or incon­sis­tent with­in the range, or lack a visu­al hook, you might want to bear that in mind next time you review the designs.

QUICK ONE: The Ubiquity of Coastal Chic

Sign outside the First & Last: New Look, New Menu, New Team.

Pubs in Cornwall are ditching the cosy smugglers’ den look for airy-and-aspirational, and it doesn’t always work.

On Sat­ur­day we went for a walk to Land’s End loop­ing back to check out The First & Last, a pub we usu­al­ly end up vis­it­ing a cou­ple of times a year. Hav­ing closed for a time it has now re-opened after a refur­bish­ment, and under new man­age­ment.

We used to find it pret­ty decent: there were always a cou­ple of beers worth drink­ing, it was snug in win­ter, and had a fair­ly bin-free gar­den for when the sun hap­pened to be shin­ing. The refurb hasn’t been dras­tic and most of that still applies – the beer, in fact, is bet­ter – but we reck­on the attempt to bright­en it up has tak­en away some essen­tial char­ac­ter.

Things have been paint­ed light teal – why is it always teal? – and there are more bare sur­faces. It doesn’t look bad, as such, but it’s not what we’re look­ing for in a pub caught between moor­land and rugged cliffs.

We’ve seen a few oth­er makeovers like this, too, most notably The Sir Humphrey Davy here in Pen­zance.

Cornwall’s prob­lem (and maybe this applies to Devon, too) is that it is real­ly two dif­fer­ent places depend­ing on the weath­er: on a sun­ny high-sea­son day, an art­ful­ly gloomy pub with wood and low beams is no use to any­one. Equal­ly, when it’s dark at 4pm, rain­ing and blow­ing a gale, a pub dec­o­rat­ed in beach hut colours, tiled and met­al-trimmed, can feel like a morgue. At the moment, the trend is, quite under­stand­ably, to cater to the lucra­tive sum­mer trade.

The thing is, though decor can give a slight lift, it can’t make light where there is none: at The First & Last, the win­dows are still low, small and fac­ing west, and it still felt dark.

It’s not always a dis­as­ter. At the Old Coast­guard in Mouse­hole – per­haps the inspi­ra­tion for some of these oth­er makeovers – it works, because the light floods in through huge win­dows at the back of the pub, with no obstruc­tions as the gar­den slopes down to the sea.

We can’t help think­ing, though, that some pubs ought to accept that, through cir­cum­stances of loca­tion, his­to­ry and archi­tec­ture, they are des­tined to be Cosy Old Inns, and just dou­ble-down on it. If the pub lacks light, then give up and make a fea­ture of shad­owy cor­ners. If it feels clut­tered, get more and more intrigu­ing rub­bish to fill any gaps. If it looks old-fash­ioned, don’t waste time try­ing to be hip: set­tle into it.

Con­tem­po­rary’ ages fast; snug is eter­nal.


Label for Partizan X ale w. crossed dinosaurs.
Art by Alec Doher­ty. SOURCE: Par­ti­zan Brew­ing Archive.

We’re working on an article about mild in the 21st century, research for which prompted this statement in an email from Andy Smith at Partizan:

The beer was orig­i­nal­ly sim­ply called mild… We then decid­ed to rebrand as X… This worked OK but not as well as we’d hoped. It was at this stage we put dinosaurs on the label and sales rock­et­ed! I kid you not. It sells as well if not bet­ter now as our oth­er dark beers. Dinosaurs! Now we spend our week­ends hear­ing how cute the dinosaurs are (recent­ly changed) and  answer­ing the ques­tion what is X?

That’s fun­ny, of course, but also made us think, ‘Huh. So craft beer drinkers are like chil­dren?’

We’ve observed before, as has almost every­one else who’s writ­ten a tedious think-piece on the sub­ject, that craft beer in cans has been suc­cess­ful part­ly because they are tac­tile and colour­ful, bright and toy-like. Beaver­town Brewery’s car­toon-laden designs in par­tic­u­lar sug­gest mate­r­i­al for an (admit­ted­ly slight­ly weird) ani­mat­ed series and also make them look like a bit like soft drinks. (Gam­ma Ray more so than this exam­ple we have at hand.)

Beavertown Smog Rocket design.
Art by Nick Dwyer. Source: Beaver­town Brew­ery.

And some­times, with fruit and resid­ual sweet­ness and nov­el­ty flavour­ings and high­er car­bon­a­tion, the hippest beers can taste a bit like soft drinks too.

Of course we checked our­selves fair­ly prompt­ly: one person’s infan­tile is, of course, anoth­er person’s fun, and we under­stand that you humans enjoy this emo­tion fun is good.

And even if it is infan­tile, is that a bad thing? One key rea­son peo­ple drink is to reduce the pres­sures of adult life and the pub is where grown-ups go to play.

This is a ques­tion we’re going to have in mind from now on, though, espe­cial­ly when we find our­selves con­sid­er­ing the gen­er­a­tion gap between real ale cul­ture and craft beer. (Def 2.)

GALLERY: Guinness Time, 1967–1971

These wonderfully colourful covers for editions of the Guinness London staff magazine remind us of cartoons and children’s books from our childhoods, but could just as easily grace the sleeve of a Kinks LP.

Autumn 1967, front: Adam and Eve with the apple.
Autumn 1967, front.
Autumn 1967, rear: the Edenic serpent wraps itself around a bottle of Guinness.
Autumn 1967, rear.

Con­tin­ue read­ingGALLERY: Guin­ness Time, 1967–1971”