Hilltop, “a new venture in public houses”, 1959

All pictures and text from Guinness Time, Autumn 1959.

“Guinness have, in the past four years, been privileged to take part in a project which has now resulted in the opening of a new public house which, both in its physical layout and in the method of its planning, exhibits several new features.”

Modern pub windows.
The exterior of Hilltop.

“The new pub is called Hilltop , and is in the South End neighbourhood of Hatfield New Town. It is owned and operated by Messrs. McMullens of Hertford, and it came into being after a most unusual piece of co-operation.”

A crowd around the ale garland.
“Once the ale was pronounced good the Ale Garland was hoisted.”

“It began when we found that the Hatfield Development Corporation had no public funds available to provide the meeting place it had planned for the new population of this rapidly growing neighbourhood. The central site which had been reserved for this community centre would remain empty and the only social building would be a small public house which could not be expected to meet all the needs of the locality. We thought this situation offered a wonderful opportunity for an experiment.”

1950s pubgoers.
“The busy scene in the Saloon Bar after the official opening.”

“We approached the Corporation and asked them if they would consider permitting a brewer to provide the amenities they had planned to include in their community centre. They agreed. We asked Messrs. McMullens if they would consider expanding the plans of the public house they were to build in the neighbourhood to provide these amenities, and they readily agreed.”

A bland looking modern cafe.
The cafe.
A group of families and children.
“The children, too, had free drinks (and buns) on opening night.”

Hilltop offers the usual facilities of a pub, three bars and an off-licence where alcoholic refreshment is available during licensing hours. It also has an unlicensed cafe where soft drinks and light meals are served. Then there is a large hall for use as a theatre or for dancing or dinners, and three committee rooms. All these rooms may be attached either to the licensed or unlicensed part of the building… by locking the necessary doors. In additional the Hertfordshire Health Authorities have two rooms allotted to them in which they run a local Health Clinic.”

Cool looking young men with guitars and cowboy hats.
“A local skiffle group entertains customers on opening night.”

Notes: Hilltop was designed by Lionel Brett, opened on 11 August 1959, and is still trading as a pub under McMullen’s, albeit renamed The Harrier. Here’s how it looks today:

Watney’s Pubs of 1966-67: Failsworth, Harlington, Lambeth, Stevenage, Wythenshawe

We continue to keep our eyes peeled for old in-house magazines from British breweries and most recently acquired a copy of Watney’s Red Barrel from February 1967.

It’s particularly rich in pictures of modern pubs, from Manchester to London. Let’s start with a trip to Wythenshawe, a place we studied in some depth when researching 20th Century Pub, where we find the Flying Machine and the Firbank.

The Flying Machine was designed by Francis Jones & Sons and built near Manchester Airport, with “interior decoration featuring vintage aircraft with some attractive prints of biplanes”. Is it still there? Yes! But now it’s called the Tudor Tavern.

The Firbank was designed by A.H. Brotherton & Partners and that’s about all the information the magazine gives. That concrete mural looks interesting, at any rate. The pub is still going, and award-winning, but has been the centre of drama in recent years with drug dealers attempting to blackmail the publican.

The Brookdale, Failsworth.

Sadly there’s no exterior image of the Brookdale in Failsworth, only this image of S.H. Threadgill, M.D. of Watney’s subsidiary Wilson’s, receiving a pint pulled by footballer Bobby Charlton. This pub has been knocked down to make way for housing.


The Long Ship pub in Stevenage.

The Danish Bar at the Long Ship pub.

Phwoar! The Long Ship in Stevenage is a pub we first noticed in the background of a scene in the 1968 film Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush. It was the first Watney Mann pub in the Hertfordshire new town and occupied the base of the Southgate House office block.

It has a really interesting architectural pedigree: that great gorgeous mural is by William Mitchell, a sculptor currently enjoying a revival. It was sixty feet long and depicted Vikings returning to their homeland after a raid on England. Sadly it seems this mural was just torn off and chucked away when the pub was demolished.

Obviously the bars in the pub were the Viking bar and (pictured above) the Danish lounge and grill room.

The architect was Barnard Reyner of Coventry.


The Gibraltar pub near Elephant & Castle in London.

The Gibraltar in St George’s Road, London SE1, near Elephant and Castle, also has a name designer attached: architect E.B. Musman, who made his name with grand Art Deco designs in the 1930s, such as the Comet at Hatfield and the Nags Head in Bishops Stortford. It replaced a Victorian gin palace on the same site. Musman actually went to Gibraltar to make the sketches on which the sign was based.

In recent years it became a Thai restaurant before being demolished in 2012-13 to make way for, you guessed it, yuppie flats.

Interior of the Jolly Marshman, Abbey Estate, London SE2.

Still in London we have the Jolly Marshman on the Abbey Estate, London SE2. There’s no exterior shot in the magazine, only this image of the bar with “basketwork light shades and, centre back, the colourful mural of a ‘marshman’”. It was designed by J. Barnard of L.D. Tomlinson & Partners.  It has gone.


The Gamekeeper, Harlington.

Out at the end of the Piccadilly Line near Heathrow Airport something a bit different was afoot in the form of the Gamekeeper, the fourth of Watney’s Schooner Inns. It was a restaurant supposedly in the shape of a pheasant built behind an existing old pub of that name. It was a steakhouse with seating for 82 people. The architect was Roy Wilson-Smith who also designed the more famous Windsock at Dunstable. Astonishingly, this one still seems to exist — worth a pilgrimage, we reckon.


The picture at the very top of this post offers a bare glimpse of another Schooner Inn, the Leather Bottle in Edgware, which apparently closed in 2002.

Notable Pubs: The White Knight, Crawley

We recently acquired a copy of The House of Whitbread for Spring 1958 — a magazine we had previously only seen bits of, in the form of photocopies, at the London Metropolitan Archive — with a short feature on a famous post-war pub.

The White Knight in Crawley, West Sussex, wasn’t by any means the first new pub built after World War II but nonetheless seems to have been considered something of a landmark when it was opened in October 1957. Indeed, the HoW article cites a BBC Home Service feature called Town and Country which apparently described it as ‘revolutionary in character and embodying many new ideas’. Architectural critic Ian Nairn loved it, too.

Exterior of the White Knight

There’s are photos of the exterior of the pub in almost every article about modern pubs from the 1950s and 60s but interior photos are less common so it’s good to see these:

Pub interior in mid-century modern style.
The Knight’s Taproom.
Pub with carpets and flowers.
The Knight’s Saloon

The inset fireplace! The atomic-age wall clock! Those striped curtains! The flying saucer light-fittings! We’ve never seen colour photographs and no indication of the colour scheme is recorded anywhere we can find but we have to assume there are some pastel shades in there.

Here’s the HoW account of what made the pub special:

There are two bars, the Knight’s Saloon and the Knight’s Taproom, and walls made almost entirely of glass divide them from the terrace which has wooden benches and tables screened by pergolas. The Knight’s Saloon also leads, again through glass walls, to a small paved garden at the side of the house. On weekdays from ten in the morning till half past ten at night a coffee room serves light refreshments, lunches, teas and soft drinks. It is linked by an open terrace where beer drinkers and coffee drinkers can freely mix. The design completely disregards the idea that drinking is a secret occupation to be screened from view by solid walls and obscured glass.

That all sounds, it must be said, thoroughly modern — very Hungry Horse or Flaming Grill.

Thought we didn’t make it to Crawley during research for 20th Century Pub we were pleased to find that it is still trading under the name The Knight. It has lost most of its mid-century charm, made over with cod-Victorian details, but that’s so often the way.

The Changing Scene: Watney’s Pubs of 1964

In 1964-64 Watney Mann and its subsidiaries were on a spree of pub building in towns, New Towns and on housing estates up and down the country.

Here are photographs of and notes on those new pubs from editions of the brewery’s in-house magazine, The Red Barrel, published in 1964. Where possible we’ve credited architects and builders. Unfortunately no photography credits are provided in the magazines.

The Kingfisher, Corby, Northamptonshire
Exterior view of a modern pub; interior view of the same.
The exterior of the Kingfisher and a view of its lounge bar.

This pub on the Lodge Park estate was opened in December 1963 by E.C.M. Palmer, the chairman of Phipps, the Northampton brewer Watney’s took over in 1960. It was designed by Phipps’s in-house architects and built by Simcock and Usher Limited of Northampton. The managers were Norman Houghton and his apparently nameless wife.

A feature of the spacious public bar is the woodwork. The seating, the counter front and the ceiling are of fine quality pinewood, and a Granwood floor blend with the general appearance of the room… [It] has that essential amenity, a car park, with space for about fifty cars.

Still there? It seems so.

The Old Swan, Battersea, London

Exterior of the Old Swan from the riverside.

This riverside pub was designed by architects Stewart, Hendry & Smith and built by Siggs & Chapman of Croydon. It replaced an older riverside pub.

A full length continuous window in the ‘Riverside Bar’ overlooks the Thames, and the nautical atmosphere is accentuated by the curved boarded ceiling reminiscent of a ship’s deckhead, and by a ship’s rail for a footrail, while ship’s lanterns and porthole-style windows provide light.

Still there? No, sadly not — it was apparently demolished before 1987 (didn’t even make 25 years) and was replaced with a block of flats that cheekily borrowed the pub name.

Continue reading “The Changing Scene: Watney’s Pubs of 1964”

Us on Estate Pubs

Detail from an unused book cover: a pub in black-and-white.

When we started work on 20th Century Pub a few years ago the intention was to write a 20,000 word e-book about post-war pubs in particular. We even got as far as mocking up a cover, above.

The book we eventually wrote takes a much wider view but has a substantial chapter on ‘mod pubs’ and by way of a supplement, we’ve written two original pieces on the same topic.

The first is in the latest edition of The Modernist subtitled ‘Gone’ which launched late last week and is available can be ordered from their website or picked up in specialist design bookshops such as Magma in Manchester’s Northern Quarter. We gather it’s a very small print-run, though, so if you want a copy, get a bend on. (We’ll also make this article available to Patreon subscribers at some point soon.)

The second was published today at Municipal Dreams, one of our favourite blogs, and includes some quotations we didn’t get to use in the book, such as this by Geoffrey Moorhouse from 1964:

At the moment, whereas Shotton has five pubs, five working men’s clubs, and a cinema, Peterlee hasn’t even got a cinema. The ones who do come, so they say in Peterlee, very often stay for only a year or two, until a cottage becomes available in their old village, and then they’re back off to it with without any apparent regrets of the exchange of a modern semi for a period piece straight out of the industrial revolution.

We can’t say any of this — all the research, thousands of words — has got the obsession with this type of pub out of our system. If anything, it’s intensified it. No doubt there’ll be more on the subject here from time to time.

Blue Boy Down

From the Brewers’ Journal, 17 June 1959:

The choice of name in this new House, built by the Bristol Brewery Georges & Co. Ltd., is of interest as it was chosen in an attempt to establish some sort of cultural connexion in an otherwise rather featureless housing estate.

Boarded up front bay window of the Blue Boy pub. Barbed wire around the perimeter of the pub.

Many of the roads in the neighbourhood bear the names of great English writers and it is intended that “The Blue Boy” should be a central pivot of this motive. Above the door to the large bar is a pleasing and colourful wall plaque. Elliptical in shape it is in fact a hand-painted reproduction on glazed frost-proof tiles of Gainsborough’s painting of the Master Buttall better as “The Blue Boy”. It is framed in painted hardboard that accentuates it and effectively separates it from the surrounding brickwork.

Continue reading “Blue Boy Down”

Sir Charlie and the Elephant: Unreconstructed and Underdone

Pubs built in the period after World War II have, on the whole, had short, rather sad lives, but there are two still trading (for now) at Elephant and Castle in South London. What can they tell us about the fate of the post-war urban booze bunker?

Elephant (as we’ll call it from here on) was a furious cauldron of development in the 1960s. What remained of the old district after the Blitz was levelled and a new traffic hub for south London was created. Office blocks were built to house government staff, like the Ministry of Health building, Alexander Fleming House, designed by the famous Hungarian-British architect Ernő Goldfinger. Most importantly an enormous modern shopping centre was built, ‘a giant new type of building, a fully enclosed American style mall over three levels surmounted by an office block’.

It was amid all this excitement that Watney’s and Truman’s breweries built flagship pubs there, the Charlie Chaplin and Elephant & Castle respectively. In August, we decided to visit both.

Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre, 1960s.
Artist’s impression of the shopping centre by Willett Developments Limited.

In the image above from Watney Mann’s Red Barrel magazine for June 1965 the site of the Charlie Chaplin, on the central island and appended to the shopping centre itself, is marked with an orange arrow. This is how it looked on launch:

Publicity photographs in black and white.
The saloon bar (top) and cocktail/grill bar.

A major feature of the house… is a wrought-iron mural of Charlie Chaplin. Designed by G. Dereford of Marlow Mosaics and made from metal springs to epitomise the spirit of the film Modern Times, the sculpture runs the full height of the first and ground floors… The Charlie Chaplin was designed by Erdi & Rabson, built by Sinclair & Son (London) Ltd and is let to the Westminster Wine Co whose manager will be Mr H.W. Moles.

It seems reasonable to conclude that Watney’s aspired for it to be an upmarket pub for shoppers, cinemagoers and office workers rather than as an ‘estate pub’. But the shops and shoppers never came to Elephant — it was a famous failure in commercial terms — and when a huge housing estate, Heygate, opened right next door in the early 1970s, the Charlie Chaplin seems to have ended up serving it by default.

The exterior of the Charlie Chaplin in August 2017.

In 2017, with the threat of closure and demolition hanging over the ‘mall’, as it has been for several years, and in the aftermath of a stabbing incident, the Charlie Chaplin feels a bit bleak. At some point it contracted to a single large room on the ground floor and received a half-hearted faux-Victorian makeover, leaving it neither thrillingly modern nor genuinely cosy. Given the tendency to connect the fate of pubs with that of the white working class it was interesting to see that the regulars were roughly fifty-fifty black and white, mostly solo drinkers, and entirely male. At one point a young woman in office clothes came in and took a seat by the window. As she talked on her mobile phone the woman behind the bar came over and asked her brusquely if she intended to buy a drink or not. The young women told the person on the phone, pointedly, that they should meet in a different pub instead, and left. We weren’t made to feel unwelcome in any overt, specific way but it did feel as if we’d intruded upon a private party, or perhaps a wake. It was literally and spiritually gloomy.

The Elephant & Castle neon sign in 2017.
The Elephant & Castle photographed in February 2017.

Across the road (or, rather, under it via the subway labyrinth) is the Elephant & Castle the history of which we’ve written about before as part of a round-up of 1960s Truman’s pubs so here, for variety, we’ll quote Danny Gill’s 2012 memoir Have Trowel Will Travel (via Google Books) which features a chapter on the pubs in this area as they were in the 1960s and 70s:

[The designer] must have had shares in a mirror company, as soon as you walked in the door there were mirrors everywhere, on the walls, toilet doors, behind the bar, and also some on the ceiling. The only place there weren’t any mirrors was on the floor. No matter where you stood in the pub, as you raised your glass to your mouth, your reflection was everywhere you looked. I must say I didn’t like this pub; it was too open for me and felt cold.

The bare ceiling of the Elephant & Castle pub.

These days, after becoming very rough and eventually escaping conversion into an estate agents, it is run by London pub company Antic, AKA ‘hipster Wetherspoons’. They have given it a retro brutalist makeover, all functional mid-century furniture and exposed structural concrete, which is somewhat in keeping with the period in which it was built, and interesting to gawp at, but also completely inauthentic. It too felt oddly gloomy — that’s bunkers for you, we guess. Although the wide range of cask and keg beer on offer looked enticing the former was in lacklustre condition and expensive, too. (We preferred the Guinness at the Charlie Chaplin.) The pub was at least buzzing, though, and if we felt out of place it was only because we had at least a decade in age on most of the clientele.

This experience probably informed a suggestion we made on Twitter earlier this week that there ought to be a prize for the first post-war pub to undergo an historically accurate refurbishment — to bring back the Formica tables, linoleum tiles, mustard-coloured lounge chairs and fibreglass friezes on the bar. The apparent alternatives — neglect or trend-chasing upmarket superficiality — seem rather sad.

This post was edited to remove a reference to the subway system which was apparently closed recently. We used to use it a lot when we regularly commuted through Elephant and must have got temporally confused. Also, we had consumed beer.

News, Nuggets & Longreads 15 July 2017: Crowdfunding & Flat Roofed Pubs

Here’s everything on the subject of beer and pubs that’s grabbed our attention in the last seven days from crowdfunding to flat-roofed pubs.

First, with his industry analyst hat on, Martyn Cornell has given some thought to the question of crowd-funding in British brewing, asking bluntly: ‘Is that money down the drain?’

A total of £50m has been raised in the UK over the past four years in crowdfunding efforts by more than 40 different craft breweries, and half a dozen craft beer retail operators who have tapped tens of thousands of – overwhelmingly male – investors… But how many of those investors will ever see a decent return on their money, other than the warm glow of owning a small slice of the maker of their favourite beers? With three quarters – 18 out of 25 – of the companies involved for which financial records have been published reporting losses for their last financial year, the answer is likely to be: “Not many, and even then, not for quite a while”.


'Women Drinking Bocks', 1878.
‘Women Drinking Bocks’, 1878.

We’re not sure these days that daft attempts to market beer at women don’t particularly need to be Taken Down — they’re usually so inept they crash themselves — but Suzy Aldridge’s rant on the subject, prompted by the latest effort in the genre, is great fun:

I don’t want some bloody pilsner in champagne bottle that looks like a bottle of bubble bath that you got from your great aunt for Christmas. I don’t want “a representation of a woman’s strength and a girl’s tenderness”, I want a pint. A girl shouldn’t be fucking drinking beer anyway, give her a J20 and introduce her to a nice porter on her 18th birthday.


Lounge bar: carpets, leather banquettes.

Restaurant critic Marina O’Loughlin is one of the headline acts for the launch of Eater London (of mince on toast fame) and she has confession to make: ‘I don’t like pubs.’

I don’t like beer. I particularly don’t like warm beer. It was a suffocatingly hot day, and the idea of lurking inside a dark, whiffy-carpeted room — or worse still, outside on grimy, fume-clogged London pavement with the smoking fraternity, zero by way of shady umbrellas, on cheap metal furniture searing scorch marks onto my thighs — did not appeal. They don’t do decent wines (well, hello, mass-produced pinot grigio) or cocktails properly. Even an acceptable gin and tonic (quality ingredients, big glass, generous wedge of lemon or lime, plenty of good ice — yes, there’s bad ice out there) seems beyond most of them. And don’t speak to me about the food: the miasma of elderly fish ‘n’ chips that seeps out of that carpet, the pies, the bloody roast dinners.

It’s a reminder (like Victoria Coren’s similar piece from earlier this year) that the pub isn’t beyond criticism, or universally appealing, and, as O’Loughlin concludes, that’s fine.


The Willow, a flat-roofed pub in Harlow.

Grumble moan mutter… In an excellent article for the Guardian Karl Whitney reflects on the disappearance of the post-war flat-roofed estate pub. We’re grumbling, of course, because this is the subject of one of the chapters of our new book and his piece not only makes some of the same points but also quotes some of the same people:

In his blog Manchester Estate Pubs, [Stephen] Marland photographs pubs just like the Gamecock. He thinks pubs “are almost a barometer of community and how a community is doing. If a pub’s doing well, then the community’s doing well.”… He feels the demise of estate pubs is due to factors including changes in patterns of leisure activity, the rise of supermarkets as a source of cheap alcohol, and the increasing real estate value of their sites – it’s more economically viable to build apartments on a pub site than to keep it going as a business, or even a community resource. He believes councils in Greater Manchester are buying up pub sites for future redevelopment, leaving “whole deserts of publessness” in certain neighbourhoods.


A Gibbs Mew pub.
‘Gibbs Mew: The Albion Hotel’ by 70023venus2009 from Flickr under Creative Commons.

Benjamin Nunn‘s ongoing project to record his memories of only relatively recently lost breweries continues with this entry on Gibbs Mew of Salisbury:

It’s hard to believe, given the relative ease with which we can enjoy 8-10%+ DIPAs and Imperial Stouts these days, but there was a time, specifically the time when I started drinking, when almost all beer was in the 3.7-4.6% ABV range… And that’s one of the reasons Gibbs Mew… stood out among the regional breweries of their day. Their flagship beer, Bishop’s Tipple, weighed in at 6.5%. And that, in them days, was a fairly big deal.


Sierra Nevada have disappointed the Beer Nut by giving into the 21st century fad for bunging fruit in IPAs:

I honestly don’t know why anyone thought beery perfection like Torpedo needed tweaked but here we are… Sierra Nevada would be better sticking to humulus lupulus as the centre of their pale ales. Nobody will remember these beers when the fruit IPA craze has come to a merciful conclusion.


And finally, some odd bits of news, for the record as much as anything:

Truman’s Post-War Pubs, 1967

This set of pictures and accompanying notes come from editions of the Truman Hanbury & Buxton in-house magazine, the Black Eagle Journal, published in 1967.

As before, we’ve tried to include information on when buildings were actually opened; credits for photographers and architects where available; and updates on how the buildings look 50 years on.

1. The Elephant & Castle, London

Exterior of the Elephant & Castle, a brutalist block.

We’re starting with a bit of a superstar pub — one many of us will have heard of, if not visited, and after which this whole area of London is named. We’ve got an earlier article from the Licensed Victuallers’ Gazette boasting about the modernisation of the pub in 1900. By the mid-1960s, when the area was being comprehensively redeveloped, that Victorian pub was doomed.

The idea for this uncomprisingly brutal new design seems to have come from the Greater London Council’s planners and the developer’s architect Ernő Goldfinger who suggested that ‘the public house should appear to float on glass’. Truman’s in-house architect, Frederick G. Hall, interpreted that instruction as above, his design being implemented by A.P. Ciregna. It’s nice that in this case we not only have an architect’s credit but also a photo of Mr Hall drinking the first pint pulled at the new pub while being applauded by brewery director Sir Thomas Buxton.

F.G. Hall drinks the first pint at the Elephant in 1967.

Footnotes: pumpclips have definitely arrived by this point but that they are tiny; note also dimple mugs, which had overtaken ten-siders by this point.

Continue reading “Truman’s Post-War Pubs, 1967”

The Life of a Brewery Architect in the 1950s

The photo above is from 1957 and the young man at the drawing board is Reg Norkett, who we managed to track down.

We found the photo in the autumn 1957 edition of the Hopleaf Gazette as shared by Raymond Simonds on his website — a wonderful trove of archive material from his family’s brewery. It accompanies a brief profile of the Architects’ Department which mentions Reg Norkett’s name in passing.

Without any great expectations we Googled him and found his address on the website of a professional organisation for architects; we wrote him a letter and have since exchanged a few emails. What follows is a lightly edited version of his responses to our questions with a little commentary from us here and there.

First, we asked Mr Norkett for some general background – where was he from, and how did he end up at Simonds?

I was born in Reading in 1936, educated at Redlands Primary School – then Junior school – which was the local school. I then went to Reading Blue Coat School at Sonning near Reading as a boarder from 1948 to 1953.

During my time at school I realised I was interested in a career in the building/construction industry as, e.g. a surveyor or architect. I managed to obtain the required number of O levels to commence professional training and was initially employed in the Borough Architects Deparment at Reading Borough Council, as Junior Assistant in the Clerk of Works Section. I commenced training in part-time study for a National Certificate in Building at the local Technical College.

However I was keen to be involved in the Design and preparation of drawings and so on, which I discussed with the Borough Architect. He  approached the Chief Architect at H&G Simonds, Mr Reginald Southall, who is shown in one of the photographs in the Hop Leaf Gazette which you forwarded.

I was offered a junior position in the Architects Department, joining the company in 1954, and commencing study part-time at the Oxford School of Architecture.

Continue reading “The Life of a Brewery Architect in the 1950s”