Motel #1, 1953

This isn’t about pubs, or maybe it is: in June 1953 Britain gained its first American-style motel, The Royal Oak, at Newingreen outside Dover, Kent.

The Royal Oak was, as the name suggests, an old inn, apparently established in 1560 and rebuilt in the 18th century. It was around this core that the new motel was constructed by entrepreneur Graham Lyon.

Lyon was born in London in 1889 and worked with early automobiles as a youth. In the 1920s he was a pioneer of coach trips to the Continent, driving tourists around in a 10-seater Ford Model T charabanc. After World War II he entered the hotel business, starting with The White Cliffs in Dover. Something of an Americophile, his dealings with Americans during and after the war gave him the idea that Britain was deficient in hotels designed specifically for motorists and so, in 1952, approaching pensionable age, he set off to tour the US visiting more than 2,000 motels on an epic road-trip. He picked the brains of American moteliers and came back ready to implement his own take in the British market.

Aerial view of the Inn and Motel.

Each room in The Royal Oak motel had its own private garage and en suite bathroom. The larger suites had their own sitting rooms. For between 21s and 27s 6d per person (about £30 in today’s money) you got a Continental breakfast, a radio, a tea-making machine, telephone, a water dispenser, and your car washed and valeted.

Sitting room at the motel.

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Trendy Pub Names of 1951: The Flying Saucer

In 1947 the world was in the grip of flying saucer fever in the wake of American pilot Kenneth Arnold’s supposed sighting of several UFOs in Washington State in June that year.

As far as we can tell, Britain’s first flying saucer sightings of this period were in Kent as reported in various local newspapers, such as the Dundee Evening Telegraph on 10 July:

Claims to have seen a ‘flying saucer’ have been made by two people living in villages near Rochester, Kent.. Miss Tomkins, of The Nook, Snodland, said, ‘At 10.30 on Wednesday night I was astonished to see a peculiar round object in the sky travelling at great speed. I should say it was 1500 feet up.’ … A resident of Cucton, about a mile from Snodland, said he saw the ‘flying saucer’ at the same time and described it as being silver in colour.

Months later there was another similar event as reported in the Gloucester Citizen for 25 March 1948:

Mr and Mrs G. Knight of William Road, Ashford, Kent, claim to have seen a ‘flying saucer’… They say it appeared to be a large ball of dull-red colour several times the size of the largest star, and leaving a streak behind it. It was seen travelling across the sky in a south-easterly direction towards the Channel between Folkestone and Ashford.

This local angle perhaps explains why the name The Flying Saucer was chosen for a new pub in Hempstead, Kent, announced in 1951. The sign by T.C.R. Adams (about whom we’d like to know more) was displayed before the pub was up-and-running, at an exhibition in London to accompany the publication of a book, English Inn Signs.

Here’s one side:

Pub sign with cartoon spaceship/UFO.
SOURCE: Illustrated London News, 3 March 1951.

The other featured a cartoon of a woman hurling crockery at her startled husband — flying saucers, geddit? Ho ho.

This Dover/Kent history website has more on the story:  it says the licence for the pub came from a slum establishment demolished during clearance and was applied (we think) to a building that had until this time been operating as a working men’s club.

Perhaps surprisingly, The Flying Saucer is still there and trading under the same name, having had many different signs over the years, and what was a hip joke in 1951 has become a charming quirk almost 70 years on.

Green Beer and Gimmickry, 1946

Green Bottles Standing on a Wall

We spent Saturday at the London Metropolitan Archives where, among Whitbread press cuttings, we found a 1946 article headlined HALF OF GREEN, PLEASE:

Green beer is back. It was a craze in night clubs in the ’30s. I was offered a glass today, and if I had been drinking it in the dark I should not have been able to tell it from ordinary bottle dbeer. But it was bright green. Why?

I asked the Kent firm which brewed it. ‘It is simply a novelty,’ I was told. ‘Makes people talk. They want something different… The green is obtained by adding a harmless, tasteless vegetable blue dye to the beer directly it is brewed. Freshly-brewed pale ale is light yellow. Blue turns it green.’

The author goes on to explore whether other colours are possible, such as red. The answer is, yes, but green is easiest.

A hand-written note in the clippings book says it’s from The Star and appeared on 21 January if you want to look it up yourself. The same story seems to have gone global in the funny filler columnettes so there might be more sources out there, too.

We first had green beer about a decade ago, and there’s usually a little controversy about the practice around St Patrick’s Day, but we were surprised to discover that it had been going on as far back as the 1930s.

There’s also something interesting about that statement ‘They want something different’ which sounds more like a quote from the 1990s, with its seasonal guest ales and spices and fruit, than from austerity Britain.

Which Kent firm was it? We’ve dropped a line to Shepherd Neame as (a) our best guess and (b) the holders of a proper fully curated archive. We’ll update when we hear back.

UPDATE 11:36 15/05/2016

This is turning into a bit of a live blog. Here’s a story on the green beer craze from the Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, 24 July 1931:

Green beer—the most successful novelty that the brewing business has known in generation —is now being followed by white ale. This is not a new invention as was green beer, but is the famous old milk-like product of South Devon where it used to be regularly served in wayside hostelries… Now, however, it is being re-introduced as a Mayfair novelty, and is served at parties as companion of green beer. Hostesses find that their women guests like beer—so long as it looks like something else.