J.B. Priestley on Improved Pubs in the Midlands, 1934

The passage below appears in English Journey by J.B. Priestley, published in 1934, and just reprinted in hardback by Great Northern Books, though we found our copy for £4 in the local Amnesty bookshop.

A hun­dred pages in, it’s a fas­ci­nat­ing, rather sour view of a land of cheap rain­coats and glum hotel bars, but it’s impos­si­ble to write about Eng­land with­out at least acknowl­edg­ing pubs, and the 1930s were an espe­cial­ly inter­est­ing time.

We’ve tak­en the lib­er­ty of insert­ing some extra para­graph breaks for read­ing on a screen:

Half-shaved, dis­il­lu­sioned once more, I caught the bus that runs between Coven­try and Birm­ing­ham… We trun­dled along at no great pace down pleas­ant roads, dec­o­rat­ed here and there by the pres­ence of new gaudy pubs. These pubs are a marked fea­ture of this Mid­lands land­scape.

Some of them are admirably designed and built; oth­ers have been inspired by the idea of Mer­rie Eng­land, pop­u­lar in the neigh­bour­hood of Los Ange­les. But whether come­ly or hideous, they must all have cost a pot of mon­ey, prov­ing that the brew­ers… still have great con­fi­dence in their prod­ucts.

At every place, how­ev­er, I noticed that some attempt had been made to enlarge the usu­al attrac­tions of the beer-house; some had bowl­ing greens, some adver­tised their food, oth­ers their music. No doubt even more ambi­tious plans for amuse­ment would have been put into force  if there had been no oppo­si­tion from the tee­to­tallers, those peo­ple who say they object to pub­lic-hous­es because you can do noth­ing in them but drink, but at the same time stren­u­ous­ly oppose the pub­li­cans who offer to give their cus­tomers any­thing but drink.

The trick is – and long has been – to make or keep the beer-house dull or dis­rep­utable, and then to point out how dull or dis­rep­utable it is. Is is rather as if the rest of us should com­pel tee­to­tallers to wear their hair long and unwashed, and then should write pam­phlets com­plain­ing of their dirty habits: “Look at their hair,” we should cry.

For more on inter-war improved pubs, with their bowl­ing greens and tea­rooms, see chap­ter 2 of our 20th Cen­tu­ry Pub.

These are a Few of our Favourite Pubs

Over a few beers the other week we found ourselves making a list of pubs we love and find ourselves longing to be in.

It’s not The Best Pubs, it’s not a Top Ten, it’s just some pubs we like enough to feel wist­ful for. We’ve been tin­ker­ing with it since and decid­ed to share it.

Brains bitter at the City Arms, Cardiff.
The City Arms, Cardiff

10–12 Quay St, CF10 1EA
This is, in fact, the pub where we had the con­ver­sa­tion. It was our first vis­it but love at first pint. The per­fect mix of old school, new school, cask and keg, it just felt com­plete­ly right to us. Worn in and unpre­ten­tious, but not cur­mud­geon­ly, and serv­ing a rev­e­la­to­ry point of Brains Bit­ter. (Not SA.) Is it an insti­tu­tion? We assume it’s an insti­tu­tion.

The Brunswick, Derby.
The Brunswick Inn, Derby

1 Rail­way Ter­race, DE1 2RU
We loved this first time, and it’s still great. Flag­stones, pale cask ale, cradling cor­ners, a view over the rail­way, and the mur­mur of love­ly local accents. Worth break­ing a train jour­ney for.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “These are a Few of our Favourite Pubs”

QUICK ONE: Overlooked

Here’s an interesting question, in the form of a Twitter poll, from @ThaBearded1 who works at Twisted Barrel, a brewery in Coventry:

He is no doubt going to write or do some­thing inter­est­ing him­self based on the respons­es so we won’t get too involved in the specifics of this par­tic­u­lar case but what he’s express­ing does seem to be a com­mon anx­i­ety: that the next city over, or Lon­don specif­i­cal­ly, is get­ting more than its share of atten­tion in the nation­al press or on promi­nent beer blogs.

We’ve writ­ten pieces relat­ing to this on a few occa­sions, most notably here where we said…

…if writ­ing about beer is Lon­don-cen­tric, and it might be a bit, it’s part­ly because Lon­don is both­er­ing to write about beer.

More recent­ly we sug­gest­ed that in 2017 what peo­ple mean specif­i­cal­ly when they make this kind of point is, ‘Wah! Why has­n’t Matt Cur­tis writ­ten about it/us/here!?

We say, once again, that if you think your region is over­looked, you should make the case. Write a blog post or ebook, or put togeth­er a Google Map, show­ing where a vis­i­tor to your region can find local beer, the beer-geeki­est bars and pubs, and give some sug­ges­tions for how they can get from one to anoth­er. Your tar­get audi­ence here is peo­ple on week­end breaks – why should they vis­it your city rather than, say, Sheffield, or Man­ches­ter, where there is so much inter­est­ing beer that it’s hard to know where to start? But also, by exten­sion, blog­gers and journos look­ing for advice on where to start.

But we’re not like those obnox­ious Londoners/Mancunians/Leodensians – we don’t like to shout about our­selves because we’re so hum­ble and unas­sum­ing,’ feels like a response we’ve heard sev­er­al times in this kind of con­ver­sa­tion, and that’s a bit… pathet­ic. It’s prob­a­bly bet­ter to boast than to grum­ble, and wait for some­one else to do the shout­ing for you.

And, of course, writ­ing crit­i­cal­ly is good too – it’s a sign of matu­ri­ty in a scene and can add cred­i­bil­i­ty to your guid­ance. If a vis­i­tor fol­lows your advice and ends up in pubs that are mere­ly ‘meh’, drink­ing bad beer, they’ll think less of your scene over­all.

We used to have a page here col­lect­ing links to town, city and region guides and pub crawls writ­ten by beer blog­gers, but had to scrap it because they weren’t being kept up to date and too few new ones were appear­ing. It would be nice to revive that, or at least to know that there’s a guide out there to Birm­ing­ham, Brighton, Bris­tol, or wher­ev­er, that we can point peo­ple to when they ask us, which they do from time to time.

Note: if you’re inter­est­ed here’s what we wrote about Birm­ing­ham and the Black Coun­try last sum­mer.

News, Nuggets & Longreads 9 July 2016: Coventry, Drinking Games, Home Brew

Here’s all the writing about beer and pubs from the last week that’s made us laugh, think or take note, from drunken archery to home brewing competitions.

For the Mid­lands Beer Blog Col­lec­tive Bob Max­field pro­files Coven­try brew­ery Twist­ed Bar­rel whose mot­to is ‘More Folk than Punk’:

One of the direc­tors came up with that – we both looked at each oth­er and said yeah that explains it and encap­su­lates us. A lit­tle left lean­ing, like to work col­lab­o­ra­tive­ly, and work face-to-face with peo­ple… Punk has become more cor­po­rate nowa­days and we’re not the kind of peo­ple that stand on a rooftop and shout about our­selves.

(The lin­ger­ing influ­ence of Brew­Dog, even if only as some­thing to react against, is fas­ci­nat­ing.)


From the Econ­o­mist an inter­est­ing nugget: there is a grow­ing craft beer scene in the Mid­dle East held back less by reli­gion, as might be assumed, than by bureau­cra­cy, infra­struc­ture and eco­nom­ics.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “News, Nuggets & Lon­greads 9 July 2016: Coven­try, Drink­ing Games, Home Brew”

Swans and Bulls: Dipping Into The Black Country

We’ve long wanted to explore The Black Country and, with an unexpected free day on our hands, seized the opportunity to do so last week.

Our inter­est in this part of the world was raised pri­mar­i­ly by this mar­vel­lous 2014 arti­cle by Barm which deserves reg­u­lar resur­fac­ing and is a shoo-in for our imag­i­nary anthol­o­gy of great beer writ­ing. There was also a nag­ging sense that we’d screwed up by tast­ing The Batham’s in Wolver­hamp­ton rather than in or around Dud­ley.

We set our hearts upon vis­it­ing The Old Swan AKA Ma Par­doe’s AKA Mrs Par­doe’s at Nether­ton and The Vine Inn AKA The Bull and Blad­der at Brier­ley Hill. (All the pubs round here seem have at least two names.) The first we reached by train and bus. The weath­er was ter­ri­ble and every­thing looked a bit bleak through misty win­dows. The sight of the blunt­ly named Pork Shop in Cradley Heath was, it turned out, a por­tent of snacks to come.

Nether­ton in the rain, a group of blokes drink­ing cider out­side the con­ve­nience store, a road con­gest­ed with heavy goods vehi­cles, their grum­bling engines har­mon­is­ing with rum­bles of thun­der… Black Coun­try indeed we mut­tered, prob­a­bly not very orig­i­nal­ly. The pub had plen­ty of twee details but looked oth­er­wise like any oth­er small town booz­er, a bit down on its luck and chipped around the edges.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “Swans and Bulls: Dip­ping Into The Black Coun­try”