Hilltop, “a new venture in public houses”, 1959

All pic­tures and text from Guin­ness Time, Autumn 1959.

Guin­ness have, in the past four years, been priv­i­leged to take part in a project which has now result­ed in the open­ing of a new pub­lic house which, both in its phys­i­cal lay­out and in the method of its plan­ning, exhibits sev­er­al new fea­tures.”

Modern pub windows.
The exte­ri­or of Hill­top.

The new pub is called Hill­top , and is in the South End neigh­bour­hood of Hat­field New Town. It is owned and oper­at­ed by Messrs. McMul­lens of Hert­ford, and it came into being after a most unusu­al piece of co-oper­a­tion.”

A crowd around the ale garland.
“Once the ale was pro­nounced good the Ale Gar­land was hoist­ed.”

It began when we found that the Hat­field Devel­op­ment Cor­po­ra­tion had no pub­lic funds avail­able to pro­vide the meet­ing place it had planned for the new pop­u­la­tion of this rapid­ly grow­ing neigh­bour­hood. The cen­tral site which had been reserved for this com­mu­ni­ty cen­tre would remain emp­ty and the only social build­ing would be a small pub­lic house which could not be expect­ed to meet all the needs of the local­i­ty. We thought this sit­u­a­tion offered a won­der­ful oppor­tu­ni­ty for an exper­i­ment.”

1950s pubgoers.
“The busy scene in the Saloon Bar after the offi­cial open­ing.”

We approached the Cor­po­ra­tion and asked them if they would con­sid­er per­mit­ting a brew­er to pro­vide the ameni­ties they had planned to include in their com­mu­ni­ty cen­tre. They agreed. We asked Messrs. McMul­lens if they would con­sid­er expand­ing the plans of the pub­lic house they were to build in the neigh­bour­hood to pro­vide these ameni­ties, and they read­i­ly agreed.”

A bland looking modern cafe.
The cafe.
A group of families and children.
“The chil­dren, too, had free drinks (and buns) on open­ing night.”

Hill­top offers the usu­al facil­i­ties of a pub, three bars and an off-licence where alco­holic refresh­ment is avail­able dur­ing licens­ing hours. It also has an unli­censed cafe where soft drinks and light meals are served. Then there is a large hall for use as a the­atre or for danc­ing or din­ners, and three com­mit­tee rooms. All these rooms may be attached either to the licensed or unli­censed part of the build­ing… by lock­ing the nec­es­sary doors. In addi­tion­al the Hert­ford­shire Health Author­i­ties have two rooms allot­ted to them in which they run a local Health Clin­ic.”

Cool looking young men with guitars and cowboy hats.
“A local skif­fle group enter­tains cus­tomers on open­ing night.”

Notes: Hill­top was designed by Lionel Brett, opened on 11 August 1959, and is still trad­ing as a pub under McMullen’s, albeit renamed The Har­ri­er. Here’s how it looks today:

Notable Pubs: The White Knight, Crawley

We recently acquired a copy of The House of Whitbread for Spring 1958 – a magazine we had previously only seen bits of, in the form of photocopies, at the London Metropolitan Archive – with a short feature on a famous post-war pub.

The White Knight in Craw­ley, West Sus­sex, wasn’t by any means the first new pub built after World War II but nonethe­less seems to have been con­sid­ered some­thing of a land­mark when it was opened in Octo­ber 1957. Indeed, the HoW arti­cle cites a BBC Home Ser­vice fea­ture called Town and Coun­try which appar­ent­ly described it as ‘rev­o­lu­tion­ary in char­ac­ter and embody­ing many new ideas’. Archi­tec­tur­al crit­ic Ian Nairn loved it, too.

Exterior of the White Knight

There’s are pho­tos of the exte­ri­or of the pub in almost every arti­cle about mod­ern pubs from the 1950s and 60s but inte­ri­or pho­tos are less com­mon so it’s good to see these:

Pub interior in mid-century modern style.
The Knight’s Tap­room.
Pub with carpets and flowers.
The Knight’s Saloon

The inset fire­place! The atom­ic-age wall clock! Those striped cur­tains! The fly­ing saucer light-fit­tings! We’ve nev­er seen colour pho­tographs and no indi­ca­tion of the colour scheme is record­ed any­where we can find but we have to assume there are some pas­tel shades in there.

Here’s the HoW account of what made the pub spe­cial:

There are two bars, the Knight’s Saloon and the Knight’s Tap­room, and walls made almost entire­ly of glass divide them from the ter­race which has wood­en bench­es and tables screened by per­go­las. The Knight’s Saloon also leads, again through glass walls, to a small paved gar­den at the side of the house. On week­days from ten in the morn­ing till half past ten at night a cof­fee room serves light refresh­ments, lunch­es, teas and soft drinks. It is linked by an open ter­race where beer drinkers and cof­fee drinkers can freely mix. The design com­plete­ly dis­re­gards the idea that drink­ing is a secret occu­pa­tion to be screened from view by sol­id walls and obscured glass.

That all sounds, it must be said, thor­ough­ly mod­ern – very Hun­gry Horse or Flam­ing Grill.

Thought we didn’t make it to Craw­ley dur­ing research for 20th Cen­tu­ry Pub we were pleased to find that it is still trad­ing under the name The Knight. It has lost most of its mid-cen­tu­ry charm, made over with cod-Vic­to­ri­an details, but that’s so often the way.

Us on Estate Pubs

Detail from an unused book cover: a pub in black-and-white.

When we started work on 20th Century Pub a few years ago the intention was to write a 20,000 word e-book about post-war pubs in particular. We even got as far as mocking up a cover, above.

The book we even­tu­al­ly wrote takes a much wider view but has a sub­stan­tial chap­ter on ‘mod pubs’ and by way of a sup­ple­ment, we’ve writ­ten two orig­i­nal pieces on the same top­ic.

The first is in the lat­est edi­tion of The Mod­ernist sub­ti­tled ‘Gone’ which launched late last week and is avail­able can be ordered from their web­site or picked up in spe­cial­ist design book­shops such as Mag­ma in Manchester’s North­ern Quar­ter. We gath­er it’s a very small print-run, though, so if you want a copy, get a bend on. (We’ll also make this arti­cle avail­able to Patre­on sub­scribers at some point soon.)

The sec­ond was pub­lished today at Munic­i­pal Dreams, one of our favourite blogs, and includes some quo­ta­tions we didn’t get to use in the book, such as this by Geof­frey Moor­house from 1964:

At the moment, where­as Shot­ton has five pubs, five work­ing men’s clubs, and a cin­e­ma, Peter­lee hasn’t even got a cin­e­ma. The ones who do come, so they say in Peter­lee, very often stay for only a year or two, until a cot­tage becomes avail­able in their old vil­lage, and then they’re back off to it with with­out any appar­ent regrets of the exchange of a mod­ern semi for a peri­od piece straight out of the indus­tri­al rev­o­lu­tion.

We can’t say any of this – all the research, thou­sands of words – has got the obses­sion with this type of pub out of our sys­tem. If any­thing, it’s inten­si­fied it. No doubt there’ll be more on the sub­ject here from time to time.

Sir Charlie and the Elephant: Unreconstructed and Underdone

Pubs built in the period after World War II have, on the whole, had short, rather sad lives, but there are two still trading (for now) at Elephant and Castle in South London. What can they tell us about the fate of the post-war urban booze bunker?

Ele­phant (as we’ll call it from here on) was a furi­ous caul­dron of devel­op­ment in the 1960s. What remained of the old dis­trict after the Blitz was lev­elled and a new traf­fic hub for south Lon­don was cre­at­ed. Office blocks were built to house gov­ern­ment staff, like the Min­istry of Health build­ing, Alexan­der Flem­ing House, designed by the famous Hun­gar­i­an-British archi­tect Ernő Goldfin­ger. Most impor­tant­ly an enor­mous mod­ern shop­ping cen­tre was built, ‘a giant new type of build­ing, a ful­ly enclosed Amer­i­can style mall over three lev­els sur­mount­ed by an office block’.

It was amid all this excite­ment that Watney’s and Truman’s brew­eries built flag­ship pubs there, the Char­lie Chap­lin and Ele­phant & Cas­tle respec­tive­ly. In August, we decid­ed to vis­it both.

Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre, 1960s.
Artist’s impres­sion of the shop­ping cen­tre by Wil­lett Devel­op­ments Lim­it­ed.

In the image above from Wat­ney Mann’s Red Bar­rel mag­a­zine for June 1965 the site of the Char­lie Chap­lin, on the cen­tral island and append­ed to the shop­ping cen­tre itself, is marked with an orange arrow. This is how it looked on launch:

Publicity photographs in black and white.
The saloon bar (top) and cocktail/grill bar.

A major fea­ture of the house… is a wrought-iron mur­al of Char­lie Chap­lin. Designed by G. Dere­ford of Mar­low Mosaics and made from met­al springs to epit­o­mise the spir­it of the film Mod­ern Times, the sculp­ture runs the full height of the first and ground floors… The Char­lie Chap­lin was designed by Erdi & Rab­son, built by Sin­clair & Son (Lon­don) Ltd and is let to the West­min­ster Wine Co whose man­ag­er will be Mr H.W. Moles.

It seems rea­son­able to con­clude that Watney’s aspired for it to be an upmar­ket pub for shop­pers, cin­ema­go­ers and office work­ers rather than as an ‘estate pub’. But the shops and shop­pers nev­er came to Ele­phant – it was a famous fail­ure in com­mer­cial terms – and when a huge hous­ing estate, Hey­gate, opened right next door in the ear­ly 1970s, the Char­lie Chap­lin seems to have end­ed up serv­ing it by default.

The exterior of the Charlie Chaplin in August 2017.

In 2017, with the threat of clo­sure and demo­li­tion hang­ing over the ‘mall’, as it has been for sev­er­al years, and in the after­math of a stab­bing inci­dent, the Char­lie Chap­lin feels a bit bleak. At some point it con­tract­ed to a sin­gle large room on the ground floor and received a half-heart­ed faux-Vic­to­ri­an makeover, leav­ing it nei­ther thrilling­ly mod­ern nor gen­uine­ly cosy. Giv­en the ten­den­cy to con­nect the fate of pubs with that of the white work­ing class it was inter­est­ing to see that the reg­u­lars were rough­ly fifty-fifty black and white, most­ly solo drinkers, and entire­ly male. At one point a young woman in office clothes came in and took a seat by the win­dow. As she talked on her mobile phone the woman behind the bar came over and asked her brusque­ly if she intend­ed to buy a drink or not. The young women told the per­son on the phone, point­ed­ly, that they should meet in a dif­fer­ent pub instead, and left. We weren’t made to feel unwel­come in any overt, spe­cif­ic way but it did feel as if we’d intrud­ed upon a pri­vate par­ty, or per­haps a wake. It was lit­er­al­ly and spir­i­tu­al­ly gloomy.

The Elephant & Castle neon sign in 2017.
The Ele­phant & Cas­tle pho­tographed in Feb­ru­ary 2017.

Across the road (or, rather, under it via the sub­way labyrinth) is the Ele­phant & Cas­tle the his­to­ry of which we’ve writ­ten about before as part of a round-up of 1960s Truman’s pubs so here, for vari­ety, we’ll quote Dan­ny Gill’s 2012 mem­oir Have Trow­el Will Trav­el (via Google Books) which fea­tures a chap­ter on the pubs in this area as they were in the 1960s and 70s:

[The design­er] must have had shares in a mir­ror com­pa­ny, as soon as you walked in the door there were mir­rors every­where, on the walls, toi­let doors, behind the bar, and also some on the ceil­ing. The only place there weren’t any mir­rors was on the floor. No mat­ter where you stood in the pub, as you raised your glass to your mouth, your reflec­tion was every­where you looked. I must say I didn’t like this pub; it was too open for me and felt cold.

The bare ceiling of the Elephant & Castle pub.

These days, after becom­ing very rough and even­tu­al­ly escap­ing con­ver­sion into an estate agents, it is run by Lon­don pub com­pa­ny Antic, AKA ‘hip­ster Wether­spoons’. They have giv­en it a retro bru­tal­ist makeover, all func­tion­al mid-cen­tu­ry fur­ni­ture and exposed struc­tur­al con­crete, which is some­what in keep­ing with the peri­od in which it was built, and inter­est­ing to gawp at, but also com­plete­ly inau­then­tic. It too felt odd­ly gloomy – that’s bunkers for you, we guess. Although the wide range of cask and keg beer on offer looked entic­ing the for­mer was in lack­lus­tre con­di­tion and expen­sive, too. (We pre­ferred the Guin­ness at the Char­lie Chap­lin.) The pub was at least buzzing, though, and if we felt out of place it was only because we had at least a decade in age on most of the clien­tele.

This expe­ri­ence prob­a­bly informed a sug­ges­tion we made on Twit­ter ear­li­er this week that there ought to be a prize for the first post-war pub to under­go an his­tor­i­cal­ly accu­rate refur­bish­ment – to bring back the Formi­ca tables, linoleum tiles, mus­tard-coloured lounge chairs and fibre­glass friezes on the bar. The appar­ent alter­na­tives – neglect or trend-chas­ing upmar­ket super­fi­cial­i­ty – seem rather sad.

This post was edit­ed to remove a ref­er­ence to the sub­way sys­tem which was appar­ent­ly closed recent­ly. We used to use it a lot when we reg­u­lar­ly com­mut­ed through Ele­phant and must have got tem­po­ral­ly con­fused. Also, we had con­sumed beer.