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.

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The Leaving of London

Those happy few who read this blog might have noticed that there’s not been much going on here in the last couple of months. That’s because we’ve had lots going on in our real lives: we’re moving to Cornwall.

This isn’t one of those A House in the Sun-style escapes from the city, just a job opportunity too good to turn down.

Now it’s all agreed and the move is underway, it’s suddenly hit home to us what we’ll be leaving behind. We’ve never claimed London has the best pub scene in Britain (for a city its size, really good pubs are weirdly scarce) but, nonetheless, it’s been getting better and better since we started blogging, and there’s lots we’re going to miss.

In the next few posts, we’re going to record our one-last-time visits to old haunts and try to catalogue our favourite London pubs in some kind of orderly fashion.

The Cuckfield, Wanstead

The Cuckfield is a wannabe gastropub/bar on middle-class Wanstead High Street, where East London begins to turn very clearly into Essex.

It’s a hard place to like, exactly, but it is getting some things right.

First, the selection of la-de-da beer is pretty decent — all three Chimays; Duvel; Liefman’s Kriek; Meantime Chocolate Stout; Schneider and Erdinger wheat beers on tap; Budvar on tap; and Veltins pils. Nothing Earth-shattering, but mostly nice stuff, chosen (we suspect) by accident.

Secondly, it’s very child-friendly. Some people don’t count that as a positive, but we were with friends who have children and it’s nice for them to be able to come out without having to apologise all afternoon for the fact that their children are behaving entirely naturally, viz. laughing and getting up from their seats.

And the building is nice, too. It’s Victorian and, despite some stripped floors and 90s style gastropub decor, the underlying cosiness comes through. It’s easy to get sink into a big sofa and feel very relaxed.

On the real ale front, things aren’t so rosy: there are three pumps, for London Pride, Adnams Broadside and Bombardier. Only Broadside was on, and it wasn’t in great condition.

So, a nice place to pop into when you’ve been for a walk in Epping Forest, or to meet friends with children, but hardly a beer-lover’s paradise.

Posh pub/hotel in Hackney

Old pub livery on the Ship Inn, Hackney
Old pub livery on the Ship Inn, Hackney

We’d walked past the Ship Inn tons of times. We’d even photographed it and put the pictures here. From the outside, it looked like a pretty rough old dive, partly because of the gang of people smoking outside the long tunnel you have to walk down to get in.

Then we read somewhere that, far from being rough, it’s actually the poshest boozer in Hackney, so we got over our nerves and went in for a nosy round.

It’s actually a boutique hotel, and a nice looking one at that. The bar makes more sense when you think of it as a service for guests rather than a pub for locals. It’s done up, as the phrase goes, like a tart’s boudoir. A good half of it is laid up for dinner with table cloths, big wine goblets and silverware. The barmen/waiters are smartly dressed with continental aprons. One of them looks like Tobey Maguire.

Standing by the door, we had one of those moments: it’s too posh! They’ll expect us to eat even though we’re not hungry!

But they didn’t. And they were very nice. The beer was nothing special (several so-called world lagers, Tim Taylor Landlord and the now ubiquitous Sharp’s Doom Bar) but well enough kept. We enjoyed our pint and felt, on the whole, that this would be a good place to go on a date or to bring people from work who don’t like ‘old man’s pubs’.

More to the point, though, it’s across the road from the usual venue for the Pig’s Ear Beer Festival (scheduled this year for 2-6 December). Any out of towners struggling to convince other halves to join them at a beer festival could find a couple of nights in this place will clinch the deal, and it’s pretty convenient to stagger home to as well…

The Ship is owned by Urban Inns, who also own the Coach and Horses in Isleworth.