Return to the Fellowship, an important pub reborn

The Fellowship Inn at Bellingham, south east London, was the first pub to be built on a council estate and as such was a focal point of our research for 20th Century Pub, not least because it was a rare example of a pub of this vintage still trading – just barely hanging on – when we were writing the book. 

To briefly summarise the story, which is told in more detail in the book, prior to and immediately after World War I, pubs were still seen as part of a disreputable legacy of the slums that new home-builders were keen to leave behind.

When traditional neighbourhoods were cleared and populations rehoused, they were dispatched to estates that were free of licensed premises.

Unsurprisingly, the more enterprising breweries started to think about how they could clean up their offer to make it acceptable to local councils with a barely-contained prohibitionist streak.

London brewers Barclay Perkins were pioneers in this regard, having been working with the Trust Houses since 1916 and with Alexander Part, legendary licensee and sometime spy, in particular. This meant that it was easier for them to demonstrate that they had been operating on ‘improved’ public house principles for some time and so get a foot in the door at Bellingham.

The London County Council minutes record the plan as follows: 

“The building is designed to contain a large refreshment room, smoke room and lounge with ample seating accommodation as well as a spacious dining hall which could also be used as a recreation room and for social events and other meetings. There would also be a roof garden. No drinking bars would be provided…”

It was designed in glorious mock-Tudor style by Barclay Perkins’ in-house architect F.G.Newnham. On the opening day in 1924, Barclay Perkins reported that over a thousand meals were served. Again, check 20th Century Pub for more contemporary accounts of the life and colour of this and other big interwar estate pubs.

When we visited in 2016, a small part of the pub was still trading, though most of it was empty and and terrible disrepair. We were shown round by a representative of Phoenix Housing who led us through the abandoned ballroom and derelict upper floor workers’ quarters while she explained their plans for the future.

An old-fashioned pub bar.
The public bar at The Fellowship in 2016.

Its decline had in some ways been its saviour – much like the Ivy House in Nunhead, lots of original features remained because entire rooms had simply been closed off and ignored during the worst of the refurbishment era. In 20th Century Pub, we wrote: 

“It is hard to say whether Bellingham’s locals will take to a cinema-cafe-microbrewery-pub but it can scarcely be any less popular than the current offer – a dingy bar used regularly by only a handful of residents. It certainly seems likely that it will draw in the ever-increasing middle-class population of south London’s suburbs with baby strollers and a taste for craft beer with their Sunday roast. Either way, the building, and its remarkable architecture and history, will be preserved.”

It actually reopened three years on from our visit, in June 2019, operated by the Electric Star Group, and thus renamed The Fellowship & Star. The planned microbrewery, a relic of when Laine’s were slated to take it on, didn’t make the cut, but the cinema and everything else did.

Exterior of the Fellowship.

The welcoming front door.

We visited shortly after opening on a Sunday when it was fairly quiet but with a good number of reservations for lunch later in the afternoon. They had had a busy night before, too, as suggested by the dry pumps and confirmed by the staff behind the bar: “Well, we did have Don Letts here last night.”

We were really impressed with the transformation, or rather the comparative lack of it. While it definitely clean and contemporary the original wooden panelling was visible throughout, barely even retouched or varnished in some places.

A pub table and chairs.
Seats salvaged from the original cinema-theatre at The Fellowship.
Cinema Open
The new cinema makes use of the vast space available beyond the main pub.

What was formerly the central office, a fascinating feature of these sort of pubs where the manager could hide behind the counter, had been partly absorbed into the bar, but was still distinctly visible.

There was still a clear sense of different rooms – partitions and visual obstacles which give a sense that there’s always something else going on round the corner – a characteristic which can make an even fairly sparsely populated pub feel buzzy.

There was a great balance of illumination and shadow, too, thanks mostly to the natural light fighting its way through tall, thin original windows.

The public bar today.
The refurbished public bar in 2019.

We had a bit of a nose around the other parts of the building that were accessible and noted that other original features were still in place there, too.

Is it gentrified? Five Points Pale Ale was £4.20 a pint, which is at the lower end of prices in London, these days but rather underlines the point that almost any pub trading in London these days is by definition something of a luxury venue.

The staff were professional and down to earth rather than aloof or cool, though, and it looked like Guinness got as much action as the craft taps.

Children are welcome, as long as carefully written ground rules are followed, and football was being shown in a couple of parts of the pub – surely a signal of sorts.

In some ways, it’s sad to see the old pub, and the culture it represented, disappear. On the other hand, the pub was originally designed to serve people of different classes, drinkers and non-drinkers, eaters and boozers, children and families… So it’s really just returned to its true purpose.

News, nuggets and longreads 15 June 2019: Beavertown, Bristol, Boozeless Beer

Here’s all the writing about beer and pubs from the past week that struck as interesting, thought-provoking or otherwise noteworthy, from The Crumpled Horn to craft beer.

First, some bits of news.

> It used to be that if you wanted to buy Westvleteren beer you had to visit the monastery at prescribed times and purchase a limited amount under strict rules. (Or go into almost any beer shop, it seems, and pay over the odds.) Then, a few years ago, a telephone ordering line was introduced. Now, though, you can order it online. (But you still have to pick up your order in person.)

> Last year, five post-war pubs were listed, including The Crumpled Horn in Swindon. Now, according to the Swindon Advertiser, it has closed. Worrying news.

> When we visited the Fellowship at Bellingham, South London, during research on 20th Century Pub it was a near-wreck with only one decrepit room still operating as a pub. Now, finally, its reinvention as a ‘community pub’ is complete. We look forward to visiting.


It’s always worth reading Pete Brown on the state of the nation. For Imbibe he’s written a substantial overview of where craft beer is at in 2019, reflecting in particular on the takeover fever of the last couple of years:

Fourpure’s beers are broadly similar in style and quality to Beavertown’s, and are available about as widely. Yet somehow, Fourpure’s 100% acquisition was not greeted with anything like the outrage prompted by Beavertown’s minority sale. The rules of acceptable behaviour among craft brewers, it seems, are flexible, depending on who we’re talking about.


Cranes on the waterside in Bristol.

Lydia and Lorna at LiquorTrips offer a review of the recent Bristol Craft Beer Festival which might help you decide whether to attend next year:

With more than 35 breweries offering their wares, it was difficult to pace yourself too much with so much to try. We managed to get round the majority, even if it was just for tasters from some. Locals Wiper and True and Wild Beer Co were there, among other national and international names in beer such as The Kernel, To Øl, Mikkeller, Verdant, Lervig, Left Handed Giant, Lost and Grounded and Northern Monk to name a few… Some of the sours on offer were among our absolute best beers of the day – Gipsy Hill’s People Like Us fruited sour, Wiper and True’s Barrel Ageing Cardinal Sour and the Pomelo Paloma by Commonwealth Brewing Company stay in our minds.


The Waggon & Horses.

From The New Wipers Times, a blog about 1930s architecture, comes an interesting note on an inter-war pub, the Waggon & Horses, in London N14:

With the opening of Southgate Tube station on 13 March 1933, as part of the Piccadilly line extension to Cockfosters, and the completion of the nearby North Circular Road, the surrounding area was heavily developed during the 1930s and so Southgate became one of many new suburbs in London where Watney’s required larger, more suitable premises… The North London building was designed by the group’s Chief Architect, A. W. Blomfield, F.R.I.B.A., (Alfred William Blomfield, 1879-1949), who also oversaw the design of “The Giraffe” in Kennington, S.E.17. Both buildings would likely now be described as Neo-Georgian in their external appearance.


Non alcoholic beer: 0,0

A provoking thought from the Pub Curmudgeon: has the recent drive to market non-alcoholic beers been a tactical decision in response to the threat of a ban on booze advertising? Maybe. (Jess remembers TV adverts for vodka in Poland that weren’t for vodka – weird, but effective.)


Scales and balance.

The ever-perceptive Kate Bernot makes some interesting observations about writing about alcohol in a piece for The Takeout, concluding with this zinger:

I think drinkers owe it to themselves to understand the risks inherent in overconsumption, and to savor and appreciate responsible drinking all the more so. Perhaps those sentiments can coexist, and perhaps an awareness of the duality makes the subject of alcohol even more fascinating to cover.


Finally, we’re finishing with one of our own Tweets:

For more selected links check out Alan McLeod on Thursdays and Stan Hieronymus on Monday (probably).

J.B. Priestley on Improved Pubs in the Midlands, 1934

The passage below appears in English Journey by J.B. Priestley, published in 1934, and just reprinted in hardback by Great Northern Books, though we found our copy for £4 in the local Amnesty bookshop.

A hundred pages in, it’s a fascinating, rather sour view of a land of cheap raincoats and glum hotel bars, but it’s impossible to write about England without at least acknowledging pubs, and the 1930s were an especially interesting time.

We’ve taken the liberty of inserting some extra paragraph breaks for reading on a screen:

Half-shaved, disillusioned once more, I caught the bus that runs between Coventry and Birmingham… We trundled along at no great pace down pleasant roads, decorated here and there by the presence of new gaudy pubs. These pubs are a marked feature of this Midlands landscape.

Some of them are admirably designed and built; others have been inspired by the idea of Merrie England, popular in the neighbourhood of Los Angeles. But whether comely or hideous, they must all have cost a pot of money, proving that the brewers… still have great confidence in their products.

At every place, however, I noticed that some attempt had been made to enlarge the usual attractions of the beer-house; some had bowling greens, some advertised their food, others their music. No doubt even more ambitious plans for amusement would have been put into force  if there had been no opposition from the teetotallers, those people who say they object to public-houses because you can do nothing in them but drink, but at the same time strenuously oppose the publicans who offer to give their customers anything but drink.

The trick is – and long has been – to make or keep the beer-house dull or disreputable, and then to point out how dull or disreputable it is. Is is rather as if the rest of us should compel teetotallers to wear their hair long and unwashed, and then should write pamphlets complaining of their dirty habits: “Look at their hair,” we should cry.

For more on inter-war improved pubs, with their bowling greens and tearooms, see chapter 2 of our 20th Century Pub.

QUICK ONE: The Flea and Sawdust School, 1927

The English Public House As It Is, a book by social observer Ernest Selley, was published in 1927. Re-reading it in search of a reference, we spotted a passage that hadn’t previously grabbed our attention.

In it, Selley reports on his visit to The Fellowship Inn, Bellingham, South London (pictured above when we visited in August), where he met someone who was unimpressed with the new style of ‘improved public house’:

Evidently this man is a member of what I once heard described as ‘The Flea and Sawdust School’; one of the type which prefers the stuffy ‘coziness’ of the dirty, ill-ventilated taproom to any of the ‘new fangled’ ideas.

Some ancestor of The Pub Curmudgeon, perhaps? (That’s not us having a go: we suspect he’ll quite like the comparison.)

It’s interesting to us that this lobby, which we associate with a certain wing within CAMRA today, was sufficiently well-developed by the mid-1920s for Selley to say he had ‘met several of these critics’, and for it to deserve a nickname. It was clearly, as they say, ‘a thing’.

The Fellowship Inn when it was new.
The Fellowship Inn in c.1920s. SOURCE: Inside Housing.

Also of note, in the section that immediately follows, is an account of early beer snobbery: Selley records a meeting with a bloke who won’t drink at the local improved pub because ‘the beer is rotten’. Selley says he tried it and found it anything but ‘rotten’. In his view the man was prejudiced because he resented the posher, more expensive pub, even though Selley was sure he would have enjoyed the very same beer served at the more down-to-earth ‘Pig and Whistle’. We can’t say for sure what was really going on — Selley was prejudiced too in his own way, in favour of improved pubs — but this kind of debate about value, quality, and the qualities of a ‘proper pub’ is certainly still going on 90 years later.

Pub Preservation: The Railway Hotel, Edgware

Railway Hotel in the rain.
‘Railway Hotel Unloved’ by Matt Brown, from Flickr, under Creative Commons.

We don’t usually get involved in campaigns or promote petitions but this one struck a particular chord with us.

It was set up by Mark Amies (@superfast72) who blogs about history and architecture and has a particular interest in inter-war pubs in the Greater London area. His piece on The Comet, Hatfield, is a particular favourite of ours.

The Railway Hotel in Edgware, North London, the subject of his petition, is another pub from the same period, so few of which are left that the remaining examples have become precious.

It’s a pub we know quite well even though we didn’t make it there on our tour of outer London’s inter-war pubs earlier in the year. It is mentioned in passing in Basil Oliver’s essential 1947 book The Renaissance of the English Public House as a notable example of the kind of ‘imposing inn… quasi timber-framed’ that Truman, Hanbury & Buxton were building at the time. Now, Mark says:

It closed in the early 2000’s and has remained boarded up and unloved since. Last month there was an arson attack which left a portion of the ground floor ruined, as yet no one has been prosecuted for this to our knowledge. The Railway Hotel has has several owners since last year.

These situations can be turned around. A couple of weeks back we visited The Fellowship Inn, a similar premises in South London, which having been listed is now the focus of a well-funded project which promises not only to restore the building architecturally but also to bring it back to life, giving over the pub to experienced chain operators, installing a microbrewery, and turning the derelict dance hall into a cinema.

Impressions of Birmingham Pubs

We had a less than satisfactory time on the second part of our recent sort-of-holiday, which we spent in Birmingham (of which more in our monthly newsletter), but there was plenty of fun to be had down the pub.

We had a hit list of places we wanted to visit, either because we’d heard they were good, or because they were of historic or architectural interest. That’s just as well because — generalisation alert — it’s not the kind of city where playing it by ear works especially well. It seemed to us that the city centre is largely the domain of chains. Largely but not entirely, of course: The Wellington and The Post Office Vaults, both five minutes walk from New Street Station, between them have more than enough beer to keep the snootiest of drinkers happy for a weekend. We did also pop into Purity’s craft beer bar, Purecraft, and didn’t take to it — it was like drinking in Pizza Express — but we’d had a long day and others seem to like it.

To get to the rest of the interesting stuff, though, you have to brave the ring road (we spent what felt like hours waiting at traffic lights or wandering in subways) after which you find yourself very quickly in the kind of post-industrial streetscapes which can feel a bit ‘sketchy’ to an outsider.

Tower blocks, Birmingham.Local favourite The Craven Arms, for example, is only just beyond the very centre of the city, but it’s not a pub a visitor would ever stumble upon, being up a side street, past a concrete car park, what looks like a half-collapsed estate pub, some wasteland, and those beauties above. But it’s not actually dodgy, as far as we can tell, and the leap of faith is totally worth it for the sight of this gorgeous exterior against the grey:

The exterior of the Craven Arms.

Continue reading “Impressions of Birmingham Pubs”

HELP US: Pubs on Housing Estates in England

Did you, your parents, or grandparents grow up or live on a housing estate in England? If so, we want your memories of its pubs — or lack of them.

First, we’re interested in the period between the wars when big estates first started to be planned and built around the country, like at Downham in South East London, or Quarry Hill in Leeds.

The pubs on these estates tended to be huge, well-equipped, superficially resembling stately homes, and were often experimental: when it was first built, The Downham Tavern, for example, had no bars — only waiter service.

Here’s what used to be the Yew Tree, Wythenshawe, Manchester, built in the 1930s:

Restaurant with cars parked outside.

Realistically, to remember these pubs as they were before World War II, you’d have to be… what? More than 90-years-old? Still, we’ve got to ask. Alternatively, second-hand tales might still be useful, and any diaries, papers, photo or letters certainly would be.

And, slightly more realistically, recollections of these pubs in their later years, in the 1950s through to the 1980s, are also of great interest — how did the experiment work out?

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Secondly, we’re also interested in post-war pubs — the kind built from the early 1950s until the 1970s, usually out of brick, often on the plain side, like this constructed by Truman’s in Bethnal Green, East London, next to the Victorian building it was to replace:

New pubs next to old pub.
SOURCE: The Black Eagle, Winter 1968, photographer uncredited.

Pubs built in to tower blocks like those at Park Hill, Sheffield, are a particular blank for us at the moment. Was having a pub in your block convenient, or was going down in a lift to get a pint more trouble than it was worth?

Pub at Park Hil, Sheffield, 1961.
SOURCE: Sheffield City Council, via Yorkshire Screen Archive.

We’re particularly interested in hearing from anyone who remembers drinking in these pubs when they were brand new, when the breweries that built them were full of pride and optimism.

If you feel inclined to help us out, please do ask your parents or grandparents — if nothing else, you might find their reminiscences interesting yourself.

But more recent memories are very welcome to — every email we get, even if it’s only two sentences long, helps us build a rounded picture.

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In both cases, we are gently testing received wisdom which says estate pubs, almost by definition, are soulless, miserable and unpopular. Maybe what you tell us will prove that view right, or maybe it will help to challenge it. Either is helpful.

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Or perhaps you recall moving to an estate with no pubs, as does this 2014 commenter on a blog post about slum clearance in West London:

When the time came we were offered a place in Lavender Hill. My mother was too ill to go with us, and when we got there my dad didn’t even bother to get off the bus. His only comment was “Not a pub for miles!”

Sometimes, the absence of a pub says a lot too.

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Comments are great but emails are better: contact@boakandbailey.com

A Pub Made of Glass

We’ve just acquired a handful of in-house magazines from John Smith’s of Tadcaster dating to 1968 and 1969 one of which contains a feature on a pub in Kirk Sandall, Doncaster, S. Yorks, called The Glassmaker.

The article says that the pub was the Kirk Sandall Hotel up until 1956-7:

It was erected by Pilkington’s, glass manufacturers, of St. Helens, Lancs., who have a large factory at Kirk Sandall, for their employees and to show off their “wares”… When it was first opened in 1934 it was regarded as being years ahead of its time…

(You can see a picture of it in full Deco glory accompanying an article by David W. Gutzke at the Brewery History Society website.)

From the outside The Glassmaker appears as an oblong building with flat roof. One of its windows measures about 20 ft. x 10 ft and contains no less than 98 panes. Dogs, representing various breeds have been exquisitely cut into some of the panes.

Dogs etched into glass.
Dogs etched on glass. Photographer uncredited. SOURCE: The Magnet, April 1968.

But that’s not all:

Inside the building the glass panels, squares and shapes of many sizes which surround the visitor on all sides are of many colours. Those used in what is known as the Gold Room are very rare and are known as “rough cast printed and fired gold”… The door of this room is of armour-cast toughened glass… The mirrored walls of one quite small room turn it magically into a vast auditorium and three or four people are multiplied into hundreds.

Glass panels.
Glass panels. Photographer uncredited. SOURCE: The Magnet, April 1968.

This combo of industrial showroom and pub sounds amazing so far — almost like a fun house. But…

To some extent the result of all this glass was a building which did not generate a high degree of warmth. In fact it was distinctly “cold” in appearance so the recent improvements have had the physical and psychological effect of “warming it up”.

Oh, no — ‘improvements’. What did they do?

The principal entrance hall has been completely changed and fitted carpet and mahogany-style panelling have covered up hundreds of green tiles which tended to give the impression of a fish and chip shop! The lounge has also been equipped with fitted carpet, some mahogany panelling, comfortable seating and modern tables.

The really interesting glass features, they insist, were retained, but we’ve got used to this narrative: modernised in the 1960s, faux-Victorianised in the 1970s, and then… Well, let’s stop guessing and take a look.

It’s still there! And looks in quite good nick. There’s hardly a trace of Art Deco left, the name has changed — it’s now The Glasshouse — and there’s a big old extension on the front. But, hey, it’s not boarded up, burnt down, or been replaced by a branch of Tesco.

And here’s an amazing 21st century perk for the architecturally curious: thanks to Street View we can even look inside at all that beautiful glass!

Oh.

Unless we’re being dense, there is no interesting glass anywhere to be seen. Just boring glass. That’s a shame.

Still, looks a nice enough place for a Sunday carvery (you can read Simon’s comments at The British Real Ale Pub Adventure) and at least we have The Magnet for a record of how it used to look.