Start drinking up now, please

For the first time in years, we found ourselves this week being chased out of a pub by staff, urging us to drink up as the lights came on. And we didn’t like it.

Now, we get it:

  • they’re no doubt bound by the terms of their licence
  • it’s in a res­i­den­tial area with no doubt grumpy neigh­bours
  • the staff want to go home
  • and they’ve become hard­ened through deal­ing with resis­tant cus­tomers.

But, still, some­thing about this par­tic­u­lar sit­u­a­tion left us feel­ing aggriev­ed and we’ve been try­ing to work out exact­ly why.

We think it’s this: at 10:58, there was no indi­ca­tion in the atmos­phere or man­ner of the staff that the pub was about to enter shut­down mode.

The music was thump­ing, the lights were low and the crowd seemed to be grow­ing. We assumed it was licensed until at least mid­night – it was that kind of mood.

Pri­or to 2005, when loos­er licens­ing laws came into effect, you knew where you were – most pubs called time at 11 pm and expect­ed you out by 11:20 and that was that.

If you ordered a pint at 10:58, that was your prob­lem.

But pubs being open late isn’t unusu­al these days, espe­cial­ly in cities, so the sig­nals need to be clear­er. In this case, if the lights had come up at 10:45 or some­one had sim­ply said “We close in 30 min­utes” – we would­n’t have ordered those last beers we had no time to drink.

And the atmos­phere for those last 20+ min­utes was ter­ri­ble, too – stressed staff, pissed off cus­tomers and lit­tle oppor­tu­ni­ty to chat between gulps of beers.

If the unique sell­ing point of beer in the pub is con­ver­sa­tion and atmos­phere then what was the point of this final round? We’d have been hap­pi­er drink­ing tins in front of the tel­ly.

Then, irri­ta­tion pass­ing, we start­ed think­ing about what shut­down looks like when it’s done right and realised that of course The Drap­ers Arms does it bril­liant­ly.

At 9:20, last orders is called, loud and clear; at 9:30, the hoot­er hoots; the crowd begins to clear; the buck­et of bleach comes out and the dis­creet tidy up begins.

Usu­al­ly, the pub emp­ties fair­ly nat­u­ral­ly, but on the rare occa­sion we’ve been there until the very close, we’ve been encour­aged out of the door with good humour: “Drink up, you bug­gers! I want to go to the pub myself.”

The Mystery of the Rock House Tavern

We spotted the above post one one of our favourite Instagram accounts the other day and thought it ought to be a doddle to track down the history of the Rock House Tavern. Well, it wasn’t, but we think we’ve got there, and the solution offers an intriguing glimpse into the past.

First, yes, Liz is right– there is no use­ful infor­ma­tion online, or in our copy of the 1975 pub guide, or in news­pa­pers archives. Search­ing for men­tion of pubs around that loca­tion in more gen­er­al terms, though, did point us to a 1986 book called City Pit: Mem­oirs of a Speed­well Min­er by Fred Moss. It might sur­prise some peo­ple to dis­cov­er that Bris­tol had coal mines but it did. Fred Moss was born in 1906 and start­ed work as a min­er in 1921. Here’s what he has to say about drink­ing, on p.37:

[Let] me tell you about “The Long Bar”. This con­sist­ed of a lane run­ning from Deep Pit Road to Hol­ly Lodge Road. There were just a few hous­es in Hol­ly Lodge, only a cou­ple of min­ers lived there. Now about half way up this lane there was a pond called the “Lil­ly Pond”. It was a pool con­sist­ing of water pumped from the near­by pit. In this lane there was also a sin­gle rail­way track, which was used to car­ry trucks of coal from Speed­well Pit to the main Great West­ern Rail­way line and of course the Mid­land Rail­way line. The track was also used to take trucks of small coal to the coke ovens and wash­ing plant.

Now, near this lane there was an off-licence beer house. The after­noon shift min­ers would buy beer at this off-licence and on a nice sun­ny day would to to this lane and have a chat and a drink before descend­ing the pit.… There would be twen­ty or thir­ty men either sit­ting on a grass bank of lean­ing against a wood­en fence drink­ing and chat­ting before work­ing and when the morn­ing shift came up from work, some of them would buy a drink and stand or sit in the lane before going home. Yes! I would say that was the longest bar in the world.

We find this fas­ci­nat­ing – anoth­er reminder that peo­ple enjoyed beer in all kinds of ways in the past, not only in what we would now recog­nise as pubs, and fol­low­ing all kinds of pat­terns dic­tat­ed by their work.

Fred’s mem­oir gives us some hard infor­ma­tion to work with and we are blessed in 2018 with easy access to his­toric maps, satel­lite imagery and Google Street View which means it’s quite easy to pin all this down.

Here’s the lane we think Fred is describ­ing as pic­tured in an OS map from the imme­di­ate post-WWII peri­od, via Know Your Place:

Map showing the lane, 'Brook Road'.

The Rock House is at the very bot­tom left cor­ner, marked “BH” for beer­house; the lane is Brook Road which runs off imme­di­ate­ly oppo­site pass­ing a reser­voir (the pond Fred men­tions?) and cross­ing a small rail­way line on the way to Hol­ly Lodge Road, which also fits with Fred’s descrip­tion. One small wrin­kle: there is anoth­er beer­house marked on the map, also near the point where the lane spits out, so maybe he did­n’t have The Rock House in mind. But we still reck­on all this, espe­cial­ly the BH des­ig­na­tion on the map, explains why The Rock House is so obscure: though it may have start­ed as a prop­er drink-in beer­house c.1830, it prob­a­bly became a pure­ly take-out premis­es in the wake of the 1869 Licens­ing Act.

But that’s just some­what informed guess­work. If you know oth­er­wise, drop us a line or com­ment below. We’ll keep an eye out in books and archives as we go and, as Google Maps satel­lite imagery sug­gests the lane is still there and now a pub­lic foot­path, we’ll also go explor­ing and see what we can see.

Main image, top: Bris­tol min­ers c.1906 via City Pit.

News, Nuggets & Longreads 24 June 2017: Markets, Marketing, Manchester

Here’s all the beer- and pub-related reading that’s entertained, educated or amused us in the last seven days, from football lagers to Mancunian tap-rooms.

Every now and then the Guardian does a real­ly great piece on pubs and this week it’s Jes­si­ca Furseth on the endan­gered sub-species of mar­ket pubs – long a sta­ple of Quirky Lon­don writ­ing with their per­verse open­ing hours and lin­ger­ing earth­i­ness in an ever glossier city.

Walk into a pub at 7am and you’ll meet con­struc­tion work­ers, police, nurs­es and para­medics, peo­ple from the media indus­try and oth­er office work­ers. Giu­lia Bar­bos, who tends bar at the Fox and Anchor [in Lon­don], says the ris­ing price of a stout and full Eng­lish has meant the crowds have moved from mar­ket work­ers towards office work­ers, who might have a bit more mon­ey to spend. ‘Now, peo­ple some­times come in just to have break­fast,’ she says.


Red Devil Lager
SOURCE: Latas Fute­bol Clube

For Vice Sports Ryan Her­man has unearthed the sto­ry of how sev­er­al Eng­lish foot­ball clubs attempt­ed to launch their own lagers in the 1980s only to face a tabloid back­lash:

On 1 Decem­ber 1987, Man­ches­ter Unit­ed held a launch par­ty for Red Dev­il Lager at Old Traf­ford. Mem­bers of a team famed for its drink­ing cul­ture, includ­ing Kevin Moran, Nor­man White­side and Paul McGrath, turned up along­side a col­lec­tion of celebri­ties ‘du jour’… Indeed no par­ty at that time and in that venue would have been com­plete with­out Coro­na­tion Street stars Michael Le Vell (aka Kevin Web­ster), Kevin Kennedy (Curly Watts) and Nigel Pivar­ro (Ter­ry Duck­worth)… What could pos­si­bly go wrong?

(Via @JimbaudTurner)

If you found this inter­est­ing then note that the site from which we took the pic­ture, Latas Fute­bol Clubeis run by a col­lec­tor of foot­ball-club-brand­ed beer pack­ag­ing. It’s in Por­tugese but easy enough to nav­i­gate.


The Black Jack tap room.

It’s Man­ches­ter Beer Week (23/06–02/07) and a cou­ple of posts from Man­cun­ian blog­gers caught our eye. First, from Kaleigh, there comes a use­ful guide to the city’s brew­ery tap­rooms which looks worth book­mark­ing for future ref­er­ence. ‘If I find myself in Man­ches­ter city cen­tre on a Sat­ur­day, I gen­er­al­ly end up in a brew­ery’, she says, which we know to be true from fol­low­ing her on Twit­ter.

Sec­ond­ly, there’s a bit of PR from the event organ­is­ers. We nor­mal­ly shrug at press releas­es but this has some inter­est­ing num­bers based on com­mis­sioned research:

The Man­ches­ter Beer Audit 2017 found 411 dif­fer­ent cask ales on sale in venues through­out the Man­ches­ter City Coun­cil area, beat­ing near­est rival Sheffield, which boast­ed 385 beers in its last sur­vey, as well as Not­ting­ham (334), York (281), Nor­wich (254), Der­by (213), and Leeds (211)… The sur­vey also con­firmed that Man­ches­ter is lead­ing oth­er cities in kegged “craft” beers too, with 234 dif­fer­ent beers on sale through­out the city, an increase in vari­ety that has been sparked by the recent boom in craft brew­ing.

This was prompt­ed, we assume, by sim­i­lar claims made by Sheffield last year and greet­ed with some con­ster­na­tion by Leo­den­sians, Man­cu­ni­ans, Lon­don­ers… In oth­er words, a piss­ing match has com­menced. Instinc­tive­ly we groan at this – ‘My city’s bet­ter than your city’ is a tedious, more or less unwinnable argu­ment – but, actu­al­ly, a bit of com­pe­ti­tion prob­a­bly won’t do any harm, and cer­tain­ly gen­er­ates atten­tion.


Charles from Ards Brewing.

We’re always nag­ging peo­ple to write about small­er, less well-known, basi­cal­ly shy brew­eries, which is why we pounced on this piece by the Dirty Hal­lion. It pro­files the the Ards Brew­ing Com­pa­ny of North­ern Ire­land which ‘has no web­site for… and a very lim­it­ed social media pres­ence’. We’d cer­tain­ly nev­er heard of it. There’s not much dra­ma here but the ori­gin sto­ry is inter­est­ing­ly typ­i­cal and refresh­ing­ly free from Grand Pas­sions:

Charles… was a suc­cess­ful archi­tect but like many peo­ple involved in the con­struc­tion indus­try, myself includ­ed, the reces­sion forced a career change… A friend actu­al­ly sug­gest­ed brew­ing and despite no real expe­ri­ence in brew­ing, he was inter­est­ed. The same friend taught him the basics and that was it, he was hooked. Short­ly after he bought the equip­ment and start­ed home­brew­ing. From there he expand­ed and built the brew­ery he now uses.

(This was actu­al­ly post­ed last week but we only spot­ted it on Sun­day.)


BrewDog Beers on a shelf.

Fresh­ness con­tin­ues to be the hot top­ic among antipodean com­men­ta­tors. This week Luke Robert­son at Ale of a Time asks a fun­da­men­tal ques­tion: is the long shelf-life demand­ed by the indus­tri­al beer dis­tri­b­u­tion mod­el fun­da­men­tal­ly at odds with excit­ing, zingy beer? Well, that’s our read­ing, but here’s a bit of what he actu­al­ly says:

The dis­tri­b­u­tion mod­el and mar­ket­place for beer sim­ply isn’t designed for volatile IPAs or unpas­teur­ized lagers. The his­to­ry of this mod­el is all tied into pas­teur­iza­tion and refrig­er­a­tion. While refrig­er­a­tion is still just as impor­tant, pas­teur­iza­tion is a dirty word amongst small brew­ers. When send­ing your beer out of the brew­ery you can almost guar­an­tee that your beer is going to end up old, and prob­a­bly on a warm shelf.


Painting of a bearded Victorian.
William Ever­ard

Only a few weeks after Charles Wells announced that it was sell­ing its brew­ing oper­a­tion and most brands to Marston’s comes anoth­er jolt: Ever­ard’s of Leices­ter is hand­ing off pro­duc­tion of its beer to Robin­son’s and Joule’s. You won’t find many beer geeks – even the tra­di­tion­al­ists – with a lot of gush­ing kind words for Ever­ard’s beer but this is nonethe­less anoth­er wor­ry­ing devel­op­ment in the health of Britain’s fam­i­ly brew­ing tra­di­tion. (Via @robsterowski.)


And, final­ly, here’s a thought-pro­vok­ing Tweet from Joe Stange which is of course a gen­er­al­i­sa­tion and a sim­pli­fi­ca­tion but…

Bottle Parties, 1940s

In London between the 1920s and 1940s, it was possible to go on drinking after hours if you knew where to go and had (technically) ordered your booze in advance.

The ‘bot­tle par­ty’ was anoth­er of those odd­i­ties that arise when leg­is­la­tors attempt to man­age peo­ple’s drink­ing habits. Its work­ings were described by Lor­na Hay for Pic­ture Post, 25 Decem­ber, 1948:

To be admit­ted to a bot­tle par­ty, you must be ‘invit­ed,’ and to be ‘invit­ed,’ you must be spon­sored by one or more exist­ing invi­tees. But you must also have an order with a wine com­pa­ny, so that the drinks you order after mid­night are, in the­o­ry at any rate, already paid for, and are, in the­o­ry at any rate, fetched by wingèd bicy­clists from the shop. If your mer­chant is not an all-night one, there is noth­ing for it but to bring your own bot­tle along in your own hands.

Through­out the 1930s, there are news­pa­per reports of attempt­ed pros­e­cu­tions of peo­ple run­ning ‘par­ties’, such as this account from the Times of 27 July 1934 of the case against Mr. Bridge­man Rochfort Mor­daunt Smith, pro­pri­etor of the Front Page on New Comp­ton Street, Soho:

Mr Melville, pros­e­cut­ing, said at a pre­vi­ous hear­ing that the Front Page was not a reg­is­tered club. Nom­i­nal­ly per­sons went there by invi­ta­tion to night­ly ‘at homes,’ or bot­tle par­ties. Vis­i­tors were required to sign a form declar­ing that they had been invit­ed to a pri­vate par­ty, and were con­tribut­ing 5s. towards the cost of the par­ty. When order­ing drinks they filled in anoth­er form direct­ed to the Mad­dox Wine Com­pa­ny, which read: ‘Please place the fol­low­ing goods on order for me. I will give you instruc­tions at a lat­er date.’

As long as they stuck to the let­ter of the law, how­ev­er, they were able to con­tin­ue trad­ing, like half-arsed speakeasies under half-arsed pro­hi­bi­tion. The Met man­aged to close many dur­ing World War II using rather dra­con­ian emer­gency pow­ers which per­mit­ted them to tar­get ‘unde­sir­able premis­es’ (Times, 28 June 1944) but they could­n’t do away with them alto­geth­er.

Ms. Hay wrote about bot­tle par­ties in 1948 because they were under threat thanks to pro­posed changes to licens­ing laws which would make it ille­gal to drink any­thing at all after hours except in the pri­va­cy of pri­vate homes, ‘or go to bed’.

She acknowl­edged that Lon­don night­clubs, quite apart from the weird rit­u­als required to gain entrance, were seedy – ‘lush and draped and quilt­ed, over-dis­creet and over-dim’ – and expen­sive, with bot­tle par­ty entrance fees at a guinea (21 shillings) and spir­its at £100+ a bot­tle in today’s mon­ey. Nonethe­less, they were nec­es­sary:

Yet peo­ple do go to night-clubs in Lon­don. Why? Broad­ly speak­ing, for two rea­sons. The first, that most peo­ple from time to time get the feel­ing that the night is still young, and that it would be pleas­ant to go on drink­ing for a bit in com­pa­ny. The sec­ond, that, what with the night and the wine and the music, it is a way of get­ting your girl a step fur­ther. Or, from the girl’s angle, of appear­ing so dou­ble desir­able in this ‘roman­tic’ atmos­phere, that her young man will want to get her a step fur­ther.

(We’re fil­ing that dain­ty euphemism for lat­er use.)

In fact, in 1949, the Home Sec­re­tary, James Chuter Ede, extend­ed the hours at which night-clubs could serve drinks with music and danc­ing until 2 am, with half-an-hour’s drink­ing up time, thus all but doing away with the need for bot­tle par­ties, and spiv-like wine deal­ers.

Not Enough Opening Hours in the Day

It seems that this is ‘Quirks of Licensing Law’ season here on the blog: today, a few notes on the problems, and opportunities, of neighbouring districts with different pub opening hours.

The 1921 Licens­ing Act gave mag­is­trates the free­dom to fix with­in lim­its the open­ing and clos­ing hours of pubs in their dis­tricts. In Lon­don in par­tic­u­lar, this led to great con­ster­na­tion among pub­li­cans, who sim­ply want­ed uni­form pub open­ing hours from, say, 11 am to 11 pm.

It also turned the whole busi­ness into some­thing of a game, as one report in The Times point­ed out:

A curi­ous effect of these vary­ing hours is that any­body set­ting out to get drink dur­ing as long a peri­od of the day as pos­si­ble could begin at 11 am in Kens­ing­ton, con­tin­ue – if he took lunch – until 3:30 pm, start again at 4:30 in Stoke New­ing­ton, and by return­ing to the Hol­born area have a glass before him until half an hour after mid­night. (03/11/1921, p.7.)

What was fun for some, how­ev­er, meant trou­ble for oth­ers. In 1929, Mr E.H. Keen, chair of the Hol­born Licens­ing Jus­tices, told the Roy­al Com­mis­sion on Licens­ing of the result of Hol­born’s pubs stay­ing open until 11 while those in neigh­bour­ing Maryle­bone, Fins­bury and St Pan­cras closed at 10:

Between the hours of 10 and 11 out­siders from all quar­ters pour into Hol­born, and the scenes in the pub­lic-hous­es near­est the bound­aries baf­fle descrip­tion. The bars are over­crowd­ed with dis­or­der­ly men and women, many of them the worse for drink, and at clos­ing time they are turned out with dif­fi­cul­ty and behave out­side in the most dis­gust­ing and row­dy man­ner. The nui­sance to the neigh­bours is unbear­able… The con­di­tion of things is a dis­grace to civil­i­sa­tion. All decen­cy is dis­re­gard­ed. (Lancs Evening Post, 05/12/1929, p.7.)

But it would take years for this prob­lem to even begin to be solved – until the 1961 Licens­ing Act, as far as we can tell – dur­ing which time the strate­gies of drinkers became clev­er­er and more elab­o­rate as they learned of more dodges and tricks.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “Not Enough Open­ing Hours in the Day”