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.