Mass Observation Strikes Again: (No) Village Inn, 1947

It’s worth asking next time you read an impassioned piece about villages without pubs whether they even had one in the first place.

In Tavi­s­tock last week we picked up a tat­ty copy of Exmoor Vil­lage, a 1947 book by W.J. Turn­er ‘based on fac­tu­al infor­ma­tion from Mass Obser­va­tion’. It fea­tures a chap­ter on pubs and social­is­ing called ‘Gar­dens, Pubs and Small Talk’. But our hopes of 20 pages of glo­ri­ous detail on beer and booz­ers were shat­tered with the open­ing line:

There is no inn in Luc­combe [in Som­er­set], nor any­where on the Acland Estate. The near­est is at Woot­ton Court­ney. There is vir­tu­al­ly no social cen­tre in Luc­combe beyond the doorstep and the vil­lage street.

Some of the men in the vil­lage, the author says, were in the habit of going to pubs in near­by Woot­ton or Por­lock ‘on Sat­ur­day or Sun­day – sel­dom both’:

Mr Gould remem­bers brown ale at three­pence a pint, and says he used to go every evening, wet or fine, to Woot­ton. To-day, on an old-age pen­sion, his vis­its are rare. His son is a tee­to­taller, and Bill Tame is anoth­er… Although Som­er­set is famous for its cyder, and home-brewed cyder is found at many small farms and drunk by young and old alike, Mr Par­tridge is the only Luc­combe per­son who has it. Anoth­er farmer, Mr Stad­don, prefers beer.

The true Mass Obser­va­tion touch, more lit­er­ary than objec­tive in tone despite its sci­en­tif­ic pre­ten­sions, comes through in a descrip­tion of the men at their usu­al haunt, the bar at a posh hotel in Woot­ton Court­ney known as the ‘Dunkery’:

The pub­lic bar like most coun­try bars is small, with two tables, two bench­es, and not enough chairs… A vis­i­tor at about sev­en o’clock in the evening would find Bob Prescott, look­ing tired and weath­er-beat­en, slumped up in a chair next to the bar; Mr Hales, who has cycled from Luc­combe, sit­ting in a chair by the win­dow; a man of forty-five not from Luc­combe in the next-door chair; Mr Keal, who has walked in, stand­ing lean­ing on his cane. Talk cen­tres on hors­es. One or two more men come in and join the talk… Ten men are present now, and con­ver­sa­tion round the bar is about a stony field. ‘Ay, that’s the stoni­est one you got, George, bain’t it?’ … ‘Big stones’ … ‘One along of Dunkery be stonier’ …

We assume the hotel in ques­tion is the Dunkery Bea­con Hotel which fits the descrip­tion – ‘a white build­ing with a veran­dah’ – but it does­n’t seem like­ly the bar is still there in any­thing like its orig­i­nal form. The walk from Luc­combe to Woot­ton Court­ney (or Courte­nay) is about 45 min­utes accord­ing to Google Maps. And, for what it’s worth, Bai­ley recalls hear­ing peo­ple in Som­er­set gen­uine­ly, un-iron­i­cal­ly say­ing ‘bain’t’ when he was a kid, though younger peo­ple had gone over to ‘ain’t’.

The men in the pub take snuff, smoke a lot, and talk about root crops, the pub in Por­lock, the threat of inva­sion, Ger­man air­men and the Home Guard, choco­late rationing and oth­er then hot top­ics. (The obser­va­tions on which the book was based were from 1944.) When two Amer­i­cans turn up (GIs, pre­sum­ably) they dom­i­nate the con­ver­sa­tion with talk of farm­ing back home.

If the men were only occa­sion­al pub-goers, the women of Luc­combe hard­ly ever went, and the young men of the vil­lage aren’t big drinkers. Meryn Arscott, an 18-year-old, is the case study and was­n’t a fre­quent drinker because he could­n’t afford it.

And that’s pubs done, in a page and half because ‘for the most part the men stay at home because they don’t want to go any­where else.’ That’s a thread that come out very clear­ly in var­i­ous bits of post-WWII writ­ing on pubs – the idea that men were aban­don­ing the pub not because it was bad but because home, fam­i­ly, gar­dens and allot­ments had become so pleas­ant.

If you’re inter­est­ed in coun­try life more gen­er­al­ly, Som­er­set in par­tic­u­lar, or Mass Obser­va­tion (this project was con­tro­ver­sial), then this book is worth get­ting. The 29 colour and 22 black-and-white pho­tos by John Hinde are also love­ly to look at, as are the charm­ing­ly peri­od charts and illus­tra­tions. We paid £4.99 for our copy of this book; Ama­zon lists a cou­ple for around £6.

Main image: a detail from a chart at the back of the book show­ing dis­tances from Luc­combe to key ameni­ties.

Mass Observation Revisited, 1961

Did you know about Tom Harrisson’s follow-up to 1943’s Mass Observation book The Pub and the People, entitled Britain Revisited and published in 1961?

We cer­tain­ly had­n’t reg­is­tered its exis­tence until the oth­er week when a Google Books search turned up a ref­er­ence. We ordered it from Ama­zon for £7 deliv­ered – a love­ly look­ing edi­tion in a bright yel­low Gol­lancz dust-jack­et.

Book cover: Britain Revisited.

The pub chap­ter runs to 27 pages and draws on the orig­i­nal Mass Obser­va­tion work from the 1930s; a com­mer­cial fol­low-up project comis­sioned by Guin­ness in the late 1940s; and a new set of obser­va­tions car­ried out by one of the orig­i­nal team in 1960. If you’re inter­est­ed in pub his­to­ry you won’t need much more than that to per­suade you to get hold of your own copy.

We’re going to be refer­ring to it sub­stan­tial­ly in prod­uct of The Big Project but here are a cou­ple of inter­est­ing nuggets to be get­ting on with. First, here’s Har­ris­son on a sub­stan­tial change in drink­ing habits:

[There] is an increase in mid­day drink­ing, includ­ing a smat­ter­ing of reel­ing drunks around town in the ear­ly after­noon – some­thing not seen at all in the thir­ties. This affect­ed local­ly by the new sys­tem of shift work in the cot­ton mills, by which no one there works all day, as they did before… Afflu­ence has enabled drink­ing to be more extend­ed and pro­duced the occa­sion­al mid­day drunk as a new phe­nom­e­non in the North.

This is a point he also picks up while sum­maris­ing the dif­fer­ence between a typ­i­cal young man of 1960 and his father:

You may wear a tie instead of a scarf, your sec­ond best suit instead of the work­ing clothes that had once been your only best suit, drink ‘best mild’ instead of ordi­nary, twen­ty-two pints a week instead of twen­ty, and maybe put in an hour in the booz­er din­ner-time, which your dad in 1937 could­n’t afford.

Well, we think he’s pick­ing up the same point any­way, assum­ing he’s using ‘din­ner-time’ here to refer to the mid­dle meal of the day, as in school din­ners, as in break­fast-din­ner-tea-sup­per.

So can we con­clude that the lunchtime drink­ing cul­ture it some­times feels we’ve lost – The Pub Cur­mud­geon often men­tions it – was anoth­er of those things we did­n’t real­ly have for long in the first place?

A photo spread from Britain Revisited feat. a shot of a pub.

That sec­tion quot­ed above also starts us on anoth­er trail: which beers were peo­ple drink­ing in 1937, 1947 and 1960? The 1947 Guin­ness project notes, quot­ed in big chunks by Har­ris­son, record that:

About half of pub­go­ers usu­al­ly drink mild or bit­ter or mild-and-bit­ter. Of the remain­der about a third drink Guin­ness or stout. One drinker in the thir­teen – even after prompt­ing – can give no details about his usu­al drink beyond that it is ‘beer’.

But by 1960 a shift was under­way:

[More] expen­sive beers are being drunk. More bit­ter (the rather cost­lier beer) and more bot­tled in the pubs.

Har­ris­son argues that this was part of a gen­er­al nar­ra­tive of what he calls ‘up-afflu­enc­ing’ – a drift towards the bet­ter bars, away from the bare­bones vault or pub­lic; and a grow­ing taste for Baby­cham, Cher­ry B, ‘a drop of gin dressed up’, and even cock­tails among younger female drinkers, where their moth­ers would have been hap­py with stout. This quote from a pub land­lord on the sub­ject of flashy young men with mon­ey to burn con­tains a lot of mean­ing for a few words and might well apply to the craft beer scene of today:

[Lads] have always liked a drop of the best.

Session #113 – Mass Observation – Round Up

For this month’s edition of The Session we asked our fellow bloggers to go to a pub or bar and write a report on what they found, in the style of the 1930s Mass Observation project.

Alan McLeod at A Good Beer Blog did­n’t man­age to get to a pub or bar but instead shared some brief rec­ol­lec­tions of his first encounter with the work of Mass Obser­va­tion in the form of a Pen­guin paper­back, when he was 19-years-old.

Stan Hierony­mus at Appel­la­tion Beer vis­it­ed a St Louis pub where every­one had gath­ered to watch an episode of a TV game showJeop­ardy, in which a reg­u­lar at the bar had com­pet­ed:

When Gilbert’s pic­ture appeared on the screen (there were two tele­vi­sions in the bar area, anoth­er in the adjoin­ing room) at 4:24 a cheer went up. The place went silent when the com­pe­ti­tion began, but low lev­el con­ver­sa­tions returned quick­ly enough. Most­ly cheers fol­lowed, some­times when he got an answer right, oth­er times when one of his com­peti­tors got one wrong. Once in a while a chant — “Will! Will! Will!” — broke out. Wear­ing a T‑shirt dec­o­rat­ed with a St. Louis city flag and hold­ing an Urban Chest­nut ceram­ic mug Gilbert set­tled at one end of the bar, a step out­side most of the mad­ness.

UPDATE 17.07.2016: Gareth at Bar­rel Aged Leeds observed a city cen­tre pub in the hour or so after work:

There are real flow­ers in small vas­es on the table, noth­ing too unusu­al, nice light fit­tings, press but­ton bells on the walls for ser­vice – I’ve tried it, no one came.

City centre pub with empty beer glass.

Rob Gal­lagher AKA Cuchuilain AKA The Beard­ed House­wife wrote a long, won­der­ful­ly thought­ful piece based on his obser­va­tions of two very dif­fer­ent pubs – a city cen­tre place with craft beer, and a more down-to-earth East Lon­don local:

Apart from the dis­com­fort involved in the delib­er­ate obser­va­tion of oth­er peo­ple this task involved a much deep­er and more per­son­al dis­com­fort, one that may touch on the sec­ondary part of the brief about ‘The Pub and The Peo­ple’, and my place with­in both pubs and peo­ples. It may get slight­ly con­fes­sion­al… Polit­i­cal­ly and philo­soph­i­cal­ly, if not in every day prac­tice, I con­sid­er myself work­ing class, but the assump­tions and atti­tudes I’ve dis­played in this instance loud­ly pro­claim the old trope of an effete lib­er­al elite con­de­scend­ing to rough it in some sort of patro­n­is­ing urban safari.

Jon Aber­nathy at The Brew Site man­aged, by his own admis­sion, only a brief set of bul­let points on an out­let for Deschutes Brew­ery in Bend, Ore­gon, but even that con­tained intrigu­ing details: ‘There’s a spit­toon behind the bar that patrons can try to toss coins into.’

W.J. Kavanagh's -- bar view.

The Beer Nut pro­vid­ed a detailed record (‘home­work’, he called it) of com­ings and goings at W.J. Kavanagh’s in Dublin one Sun­day lunchtime, inter­wo­ven with tast­ing notes on the beers he drank. There are no pot plants or spit­toons…

But it’s inter­est­ing how it has been kit­ted out, and I’m sure this is one of those fea­tures that are com­mon to urban pubs but rarely noticed: every­thing is sub­tly nailed down and secured; noth­ing is hang­ing loose to be idly torn or knocked onto the floor. The pub does­n’t look at all sparse, but if you want­ed to trash the place you’d find it tough to gath­er mate­ri­als for doing so.

Luke Corbin gave us our only obser­va­tion from out­side the Euro­pean-Amer­i­can axis, set­ting him­self up at a bar called Suzu­ki Drink in Yan­gon, Myan­mar:

An almost req­ui­site stylised image of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi hangs close to the sin­gle tele­vi­sion and in a large wall niche a col­lec­tion of pot­tery, gourds, tra­di­tion­al instru­ments and tor­toise shells draw the eye.  There are chairs for forty pax and the tables are tacky MDF.  A sub­stan­tial bar sits in the north­west­ern cor­ner with a sin­gle tap dis­pens­ing Regal Sev­en, a Heineken brand exclu­sive­ly brewed in Myan­mar.  It is sur­round­ed by nice-look­ing glass­ware, Regal Sev­en-brand­ed beer tow­ers and a Con­ti espres­so machine. 

The Anony­mous author of the Deep Beer blog went to a ‘Bar & Grille’ in Crownsville, Mary­land, with fish-carv­ings, pat­terned con­crete, hops grow­ing in the gar­den, and lots of peo­ple star­ing at their phones.

Mike Stein at Lost Lagers under­took an obser­va­tion at a pub in Wash­ing­ton D.C. where, of 13 peo­ple in atten­dance, 9 were ‘tied to their mobiles’. The more sub­stan­tial part of his post, how­ev­er, is an extract from a mem­oir writ­ten by his father, a soci­ol­o­gist him­self, about beer in pre-WWII Prague.

UPDATE 17.07.2016: The Anony­mous author of Man Beach hung out in a sub­ur­ban pub in Exeter, Devon, where a baby show­er was under­way:

The women and chil­dren in the alcove are obvi­ous­ly prepar­ing for some­one com­ing in – all but one hide behind the wall. A cou­ple come in – the woman plain­ly preg­nant – to be greet­ed by cheers from the crowd. A sign on the wall behind says ‘Baby Show­er’ and some­one has a doll dressed in baby clothes. The landlord/chef brings in sand­wich­es, snacks etc. for the assem­bly and lat­er they can be seen play­ing par­ty games such as ‘pin the tail on the don­key’ with the chil­dren.

The beer menu at The Mermaid.

Alec Lath­am, author of Most­ly About Beer, con­duct­ed not one but two obser­va­tion in St Albans, a com­muter town just out­side Lon­don which also hap­pens to be the head­quar­ters of the Cam­paign for Real Ale (CAMRA). First he vis­it­ed The Boot where he found ‘about 40 cus­tomers… vir­tu­al­ly all are watch­ing Eng­land v Ice­land in the Euros on one of the two tele­vi­sions’. Then, on anoth­er day, he went to The Mer­maid:

Just below ceil­ing height, the pub also boasts rows of both archa­ic and mod­ern beer bot­tles and drink­ing ves­sels on a nar­row shelf. I spot some bot­tles bear­ing can­di­dates from the British 1992 elec­tion (John Major and Pad­dy Ash­down are rep­re­sent­ed, though I can’t see Neil Kin­nock).

At his blog Oh Good Ale Phil, like Alec and Rob, pro­vides notes on two pubs in Man­ches­ter, a branch of Wether­spoon’s and a famous brew­ery tap:

The con­ver­sa­tion moves on to Guin­ness, seen as a par­tic­u­lar­ly chal­leng­ing beer (‘he said, we’ll chill it to fuck, you won’t have to taste it’) and past acquain­tances who had been par­tic­u­lar­ly fond of it (‘he’d just drink pint after pint after pint of it… towards the end of the evening when every­one was on shots, he’d just have anoth­er pint of Guin­ness…’). After a while they all go out­side for a smoke; my near­est neigh­bours are now an ani­mat­ed young cou­ple (both drink­ing the red cock­tails) and a bald­ing man sit­ting alone, wear­ing head­phones plugged into his phone.

Mar­tin Tay­lor AKA Retired Mar­tin also looked at two dif­fer­ent pubs, one in Epworth, and anoth­er in Bar­ton-upon-Hum­ber – ‘will be aston­ished if this place looks dif­fer­ent on 1 July 2036’. Mar­t­in’s blog is an extend­ed exer­cise in pub obser­va­tion in its own right although he found this par­tic­u­lar exer­cise a bit weird:

I’ve nev­er been a detail per­son, and this was an odd piece to do, par­tic­u­lar­ly when I had to ask the friend­ly bar­man for a pen­cil sharp­en­er (pen and pen­cil were essen­tial for authen­tic­i­ty).

Jor­dan at A Time­ly Tip­ple lives in Berlin where he set him­self up at an Eng­lish-style pub offer­ing cask ale along­side more typ­i­cal­ly Ger­man styles:

I try to dis­tin­guish what peo­ple are talk­ing about, but it’s a touch dif­fi­cult giv­en the three dif­fer­ent lan­guages being spo­ken in here. Some are catch­ing up; oth­ers are dis­cussing the phi­los­o­phy of death. Typ­i­cal pub talk, real­ly.

Steve at Wait Until Next Year observed a cen­tral Lon­don craft beer pub around mid­day dur­ing the week when the cus­tomers were most­ly col­leagues shar­ing their lunch-breaks:

Vari­a­tions on pork pies, pork scratch­ings and crisps are avail­able. They are all on the craft‑y side too. The pies are under a glass dome, the scratch­ings in glass Kil­ner jars. I see one per­son order the scratch­ings and the bar staff put on one of those blue cater­ing gloves for han­dling them, squash­ing them into a ceram­ic ramekin.

And, final­ly, there’s our own con­tri­bu­tion fea­tur­ing but­ton-up shirts, work boots, pok­er and a full-heart­ed ren­di­tion of My Way.

* * *

So, what did we learn from this admittedly small sample?

  1. Vap­ing in pubs, which we saw lot of in New­cas­tle and a bit in Birm­ing­ham, isn’t as uni­ver­sal as we’d expect­ed.
  2. Pubs are pubs are pubs – there’s noth­ing in the descrip­tions above that made us think we’d be unable to cope with any of those venues, even Suzu­ki Drink, which sounds the far­thest from our expe­ri­ence.
  3. A major foot­ball tour­na­ment does­n’t nec­es­sar­i­ly dom­i­nate pubs even when they’re show­ing it.
  4. That look­ing close­ly at even the most famil­iar pub can reveal intrigu­ing details.
  5. Obser­va­tions with­out nar­ra­tive can seem rather dry… But any­one look­ing back on these in a hun­dred years time (dig­i­tal decay and pend­ing apoc­a­lypses per­mit­ting) will find plen­ty to enjoy in every entry.

* * *

If we missed your entry, grov­el­ling apolo­gies – give us a nudge and we’ll sort it. If you want­ed to take part but did­n’t get round to it in time, it’s worth doing any­way – we’re hap­py to add links ret­ro­spec­tive­ly. The next Ses­sion is host­ed by Al at Fug­gled:

Session #113: Observers Arrive 20:02

Mass Observation: The Pub and The People.

This month’s edition of The Session is hosted by, er, us, on the subject of Mass Observation. Get involved, bloggers and let us know about your posts here, on Twitter, or by email! In the meantime, here’s our contribution.

Pub near har­bour, small town, Corn­wall. One large bar with mez­za­nine; din­ing room; out­side smok­ing area (cov­ered and heat­ed); gar­den. All on one floor.

Three cask ales (tra­di­tion­al hand­pumps); Guin­ness (large illu­mi­nat­ed font with rug­by ball on han­dle); Korev lager (large chrome font with con­den­sa­tion); Guin­ness Hop House 13 Lager (large font with con­den­sa­tion); Carslberg, San Miguel, Ams­tel lagers on stan­dard keg bar; Rat­tler (with car­toon snake head han­dle) and Strong­bow ciders on same.

Pub is dom­i­nat­ed by a par­ty of nine (six men, three women) play­ing pok­er on a lage cen­tral table, formed by mov­ing sev­er­al oth­er tables from the periph­ery. A green baize tem­po­rary play­ing board cov­ers most of the sur­face. Loud dis­cus­sion about the rules of the game at points.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “Ses­sion #113: Observers Arrive 20:02”

Announcement: Session #113 – Mass Observation: The Pub and The People

We’re hosting the 113th edition of The Session in July and we’re asking you to go to the pub, observe, and report.

The beer blogging Session logo.In the late 1930s a team of social researchers descend­ed on Lan­cashire and spent sev­er­al years observ­ing the peo­ple of Bolton and Black­pool as they went about their dai­ly lives. As part of that, in 1937 and 1938, they made a spe­cial study of pubs, which led to the pub­li­ca­tion of one of our favourite books of all time, The Pub and The Peo­ple, in 1943.

This is an extract from a typ­i­cal entry from the orig­i­nal obser­va­tion logs, prob­a­bly from 1938, describ­ing the Vault of a pub in Bolton:

13 men stand­ing, 8 sit­ting. 4 play­ing domi­noes. 2 of the sit­ters are post­men.

2 men, about fifty, short, stur­dy, caps and scarves, shiny worn blue shirts quar­relling about pol­i­tics. One keeps say­ing, ‘If ee don’t like the coun­try why don’t ee go away? No one stops me get­ting a liv­ing.’ Then he sud­den­ly shouts ‘Why should­n’t the king and queen be there. I’m for them! They should be there.’ … Bar­man comes round with a small can­vas bag, jan­gling it, asks me if I want a pen­ny draw for a pie. So I put my hand into the bag and get out a worn brass disc about size of a half pen­ny, which says Rig­gs Pies and has a num­ber in the mid­dle. The draw takes place some­where else. Num­ber 9 wins… and he gets a small hot pie, the sort you can get for fourpence.

What we want peo­ple to do for The Ses­sion is to recre­ate this exer­cise in 2016: take a note­book to a pub or bar – any one you fan­cy – and write a note of what you observe.

  • How many peo­ple are drink­ing?
  • Which beers are on tap, and which are peo­ple actu­al­ly drink­ing?
  • What are they eat­ing?
  • How are they pass­ing the time?
  • What are the top­ics of con­ver­sa­tion?
  • How is the pub dec­o­rat­ed?
  • How many TVs are there and what are they show­ing?
  • Are there pot plants, par­rots, spit­toons?
  • How many smok­ers are there? And vapers?
  • Is there a dart­board, pool table or quiz machine, and are they in use?

Over the years, peo­ple have fret­ted about Mass Obser­va­tion’s atti­tudes to pri­va­cy and so, in line with orig­i­nal Mass Obser­va­tion prac­tice, you might want to anonymise the pub – city cen­tre sports bar, sub­ur­ban din­ing pub, indus­tri­al estate brew­ery tap, and so on. And it’s bad form to give names and details which might allow indi­vid­u­als to be iden­ti­fied from your descrip­tions.

And an Optional Extra

As a chas­er, after your obser­va­tions, write what­ev­er you like spurred by the idea of ‘The Pub and The Peo­ple’. Real­ly, what­ev­er you like, as vague­ly relat­ed to theme as it might be. Or instead of mak­ing any obser­va­tions, even. The main thing is that you feel inspired to write some­thing.

How this Works

Do your observ­ing in the next few weeks, pub­lish your post on or near FRIDAY 1 JULY and let us know about it by Tweet­ing (@boakandbailey), email­ing ( or com­ment­ing on this post. We’ll pub­lish a round-up in mid-July to allow for strag­glers.

If you’ve nev­er tak­en part in The Ses­sion before, or have lapsed, do join in – it does­n’t have to be a huge effort and it’s a great way to con­nect with oth­er beer blog­gers world­wide.