New Pubs and Old Favourites #2: The Cat’s Back, Wandsworth

The last pub was Jess’s discovery; this one was Ray’s. He visited with The Ring last October and we finally got there together in deep December.

All around it are colos­sal blocks of flats with lots of lights but appar­ent­ly lit­tle life, so that the pub seems almost like a joke, or a con­trivance by devel­op­ers.

The win­dows glow soft­ly, not throw­ing light out but guard­ing it, like a flame cupped in the hands.

It’s a Harvey’s pub – “A back-up Roy­al Oak,” we said, only half jok­ing. It real­ly does feel like its sis­ter at Bor­ough, only with a lit­tle less per­son­al­i­ty. The clien­tele seems sim­i­lar, too: strong Lon­don accents and nico­tine-stained knuck­les, with a rasp­ber­ry rip­ple swirl of pub­lic school vow­els and col­lege scarves.

The Cat's Back -- pub frontage.

Is this the kind of pub, we won­dered, that sur­vives through the cus­tom of peo­ple who have become acci­den­tal­ly wealthy as their objec­tive­ly quite unre­mark­able hous­es in Lon­don stock brick have rock­et­ed in val­ue? Peo­ple who have always lived here, who miss how it used to be, and cling to the pub – this nail house – as part of their iden­ti­ty as ordi­nary Lon­don­ers?

Ah, what do we know, but it’s fun to pon­der.

Old Ale illu­mi­nates the con­cept of best mild with­out say­ing a word. Cask Christ­mas Ale, head­less and sher­ri­fied, says some­thing about beer’s capac­i­ty to be both hum­ble and grand. Wise beer, Harvey’s.

We should start a pod­cast,” says one of the staff to some friends lean­ing on the bar and as they expand on the idea, laugh­ter over­takes them.

Some­one explains a com­pli­cat­ed con­spir­a­cy the­o­ry to an unin­ter­est­ed friend.

An elder­ly woman sits alone, ignor­ing her paper­back, eyes shim­mer­ing at some hap­py mem­o­ry, or maybe a sad one.

A dark vel­vet cur­tain rip­ples in a per­sis­tent draft.

News Pubs and Old Favourites #1: The Forester, Ealing

We spent the gap between Christmas and New Year in West London, on the hunt for Proper Pubs. Four stood out and we’re going to give each one its own post.

Jess first vis­it­ed the Forester in North­fields, Eal­ing, in 2016, dur­ing research for 20th Cen­tu­ry Pub, and has been try­ing to get Ray there ever since. It’s of aca­d­e­m­ic inter­est, being built in 1909 as an ear­ly Improved Pub to a design by Now­ell-Parr, and retain­ing a mul­ti-room lay­out with lots of peri­od details.

It also hap­pens to be a sub­ur­ban back­street cor­ner pub – our cur­rent favourite thing. As we approached, it peeked into view between the cor­ner shops and ter­raced hous­es, like a steam­punk cruise ship at berth.

It’s a Fuller’s pub, too, which means touch­es of the cor­po­rate, but not to an oppres­sive degree. It helps that the light is kept low and (not to everyone’s taste, we know) the music loud, so every table feels like its own warm bub­ble.

The Forester, Ealing -- interior.

The locals seemed well-to-do with­out being posh, sink­ing beer and gin, and throw­ing out the odd rau­cous joke: “Bloody hell! When you bent over then, Steve… Either you’re wear­ing a black thong or you for­got to wipe your arse.”

They ignored par­ties of out­siders – a group of what we took for pro­fes­sion­al foot­ballers on tour, all design­er shirts and hair prod­uct; a trio of twen­tysome­things, appar­ent­ly from the mid­dle east, when-in-Rome-ing with pints of Guin­ness – with­out appar­ent mal­ice.

The beer was excel­lent, too – Fuller’s as Fuller’s should be served, gleam­ing and bril­liant beneath clean arc­tic foam. The ESB in par­tic­u­lar was hard to resist, demand­ing to be treat­ed like a ses­sion beer, which maybe it is at Christ­mas.

We made time to vis­it twice dur­ing a four-night trip, which should tell you some­thing. You might find it worth a detour next time you’re in Lon­don.

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”

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.