Further Reading #2: RIBA Wonderland

Researching 20th Century Pub we spent time in some great libraries and archives with rich collections of pub- and beer-related material. This is the second in a series of blog posts intended to highlight great resources you can go and look up yourself.

We had assumed that the library of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) might be difficult to get into but, no, it’s a doddle. You just turn up at the gorgeous building on Portland Place, London W1, and sign yourself in with the requirement to show some sort of photo ID the only hurdle to jump.

The library itself is small but tranquil with plenty of quiet bays, balconies and corners to work in. There are lots of desks and plenty of power points, and the library has a liberal policy with regard to the use of cameras and smartphones, as long as you obey the usual rules of copyright and redistribution. (Which, of course, we have slightly bent by using some of the images below, but only at low-res, mostly grainy and out of focus at that, and purely by way of commentary on the library itself.)

Open Access

There’s a huge amount of stuff relevant to the interests of pub geeks available on open access before you even start bothering the stacks. There’s a comprehensive collection of books on pub architecture, for example, including standard works by people such as Ben Davis and Mark Girouard as well as more niche publications. Lynn Pearson’s 1989 book The Northumbrian Pub: an architectural history was nice to stumble across, for example.

There are also bound volumes of various architecture and building magazines dating back to the Victorian period that you are free to take from the shelf and browse. Some are indexed better than others and references to pubs in particular can be hard to track down, listed as they might be under public houses, taverns, inns, pubs, drinking establishments, hotels depending on the customs of each year and the prejudices of the indexer.

We found lots to enjoy in particular in The Architect and Building News, The Architects’ JournalThe Brick Builder and Building. Pubs didn’t come up all that often beyond bouts of bickering on the letters pages but when they did it tended to be in substantial features with lots of pictures and plans. The issue of ABN for 23 October 1936, for example, had a big, lavishly illustrated feature on the Myllet Arms at Perivale, with credits for every detail of the decor and building: “Carving to Sign: Gertrude Hermes”. The AJ for 24 November 1938 had an epic article by the architect of the Myllet Arms, E.B. Musman, called ‘Public Houses: Design and Construction’, with descriptions, maps and photographs of tons of pubs, and 1930s Art Deco examples in particular.

Hand-drawn plan.
A diagram from Musman’s 1938 article.

Another article of particular note — do go and look it up if you get chance — is ‘The Post-War Pub’ from the Architects’ Journal Information Library for 20 May 1964. It is based on a survey of post-war pubs commissioned by the Brewers’ Society and led by architect Geoffrey Salmon who we assume also wrote the article. If you’re interested, as we are, in estate pubs, flat-roofed pubs, booze bunkers, or whatever else you want to call them, this is the motherlode, crammed with acute observations, photographs and statistics — this is where we found the estimate of the number of pubs built in the post-war period cited in 20th Century Pub.

Title page: The Post-War Pub.

At this point we should mention the staff who could not have been more helpful on our multiple visits. At one point, having explained what we were researching, one of the librarians got a bit animated trying to recall some nugget of information. He turned up at the desk where we were working half an hour later with an early 20th century article about pubs that was confusingly indexed anywhere but that he remembered having come across years before. Now that’s above and beyond.

Title page: The Modern Public House.

Into the Stacks

There’s also a huge amount of material kept under lock and key but no less accessible for that. As it’s a small, fairly quiet library nothing takes long to emerge once a slip has been submitted — ten minutes, perhaps? It was through this route that we were finally able to get our hands on Basil Oliver’s 1934 book The Modern Public House. As it happened it contained most of the same material as his later must-read The Renaissance of the English Public House but it was good to verify that with our own eyes, and also to read the short introduction by the great Imperial architect and occasional pub designer Edwin Lutyens:

The Public House represents what should be the hub of our wheel of Life, essential to our material need and second only to the Church that stands and represents our spiritual necessity. The Church is to the spirit as the Inn is to the flesh and, if good and well designed, they baulk the Devil himself.

Of less interest, perhaps, are the various government publications on planning, housing and public health, most of which mention pubs only in passing. Still, we found them useful, in lieu of easy to access online versions. (Which, seriously, there ought to be.) The same might be said for obscure architectural guidebooks such as Hugh Casson’s New Sights of London from 1938 which has notes on a few pubs and includes this particularly lovely illustration:

The Comet, Hatfield, as illustrated in 1938.

So, there you have it: perhaps our favourite library of all of those we explored in the last year or two. You can search the catalogue online — try ‘pubs’ for starters and if the mile-long list of results doesn’t give you the urge to visit then nothing will.

Further Reading #1: The Newcastle Beerpendium

Researching 20th Century Pub we spent time in some great libraries and archives with rich collections of pub- and beer-related material. We barely got to scratch the surface in the book so this series of blog posts is intended to highlight some great resources you can go and look up yourself.

Our first stop is the City Library in Newcastle upon Tyne which we visited for a couple of pleasant sessions in June 2016. The top floor reference collection has a nice collection of books on the region’s pubs, most packed with photos and anecdotes, like this from Brian Bennison’s Heavy Nights, published in 1997:

In Gosforth High St the County Hotel was owned by James Deuchar before [Scottish & Newcastle]. One significant change took place in 1975 when the sanctity of the Gents’ Buffet was breached after what was thought to have been 140 years of ‘men only’. The day the Sex Discrimination Act came into force three female journalists entered the Gents’ Buffet to push the boat out with an order of one glass of cider and two fruit juices. The landlord told them, “You realise you’ve just made history in here. It’s a sad day.”

The real star of the show, though, is a huge scrapbook of newspaper clippings and leaflets. Archivists rightly protest when people claim to have ‘unearthed’ something which they, the librarians, found, bound and catalogued years ago, and this collection is a great example of their work. It contains early Tyneside CAMRA leaflets, for example — the kind of thing that most people threw away or lost when their guidance ceased to be useful but that someone thought to keep and preserve.

Good Pub Guide c.1975

From the above, undated but c.1975 we’d guess, it becomes clear how dominant Bass was in the region and that the Mitre at Benwell (second on the list) and the Duke of Wellington in Newcastle city centre were the most notable ‘beer exhibition’ pubs.

The news cuts tell interesting stories, too, such as the offence taken in the region in 1971 when analyses of beer strength undertaken by Durham County Weights and Measures Inspectors revealed that the North East’s beer was rather weaker than popularly imagined.

HEADLINE: "We're Weak Beer Snobs!"

This article also contains a table of the original gravity, ABV and price-per-pint of every beer sold in the region. (Which we think we’ve already shared with Ron Pattinson…)

There’s a story from 1976 about a two-day CAMRA beer festival in Durham with no less than fifteen different ales, but not Tetley, which refused to supply the event because they feared the beer ‘would not be served properly’. That’s followed by a review of the event by John North for the Northern Echo:

There was a feller professing to be the Earl of Derby’s nephew, another who’d struggled there on crutches, and a third who carried round an empty Castrol GTX can, presumably in case he needed to take a few samples home… The senior man at St Chad’s College arrived in knee-length shorts and near knee-length hair; the wife of a bookshop owner in Saddler Street came in a Pickwickian dress; a lot of men wore light blue CAMRA tee-shirts over tight brown bellies and a young lady had the peculiar message ‘Lubby, lubby, lubby’ emblazoned across her chest… In one corner a bearded man sat engrossed in his Times crossword, automatically reaching out every few seconds to grab his Hook Norton’s.

(An early manifestation of the bellies and beards stereotype?)

One final item worth highlighting is the arrival in 1977 of Tsing-Tao at the Emperor Restaurant, run by Arthur King who came to Newcastle from Hong Kong as a child in the 1940s. The Journal had great fun with the crazy idea of Geordies drinking beer from China and got a few locals to taste it, like 71-year-old pensioner Albert Smith:

It’s very good: a soft, smooth tasting drink… But at 40p a bottle it’s too expensive for people like me to drink. And it’s a long way to take the bottle back.

Beyond the stuff specifically relating to beer and pubs there are also, for example, decades’ worth of issues of local society magazine Newcastle Life packed with ads for local pubs, clubs and breweries. (Main picture, top.)

If you live in the North East and fancy learning about your region’s beer history, or if you’re in Newcastle as a beer tourist and need something to do between your smashed avocado toast and the pub opening, do pop in and take a look at this fascinating collection.