London pubs from a woman’s perspective, 1964

A drawing of a pub.
The Kings Head and Eight Bells by John Coop­er.

In 1964 Batsford published a guide to London with a twist: it was about where to go and what to do on sleepy Sundays. Such as, for example… visit the pub.

We picked up our copy of Lon­don on Sun­day at Oxfam in Cotham for £3.99. It’s not a book we’ve ever encoun­tered before, or even heard of.

We haven’t man­aged to find out much about the author, Bet­ty James, either, except that she wrote a few oth­er books, includ­ing Lon­don and the Sin­gle Girl, pub­lished in 1967, and Lon­don for Lovers, 1968. She was old­er than the girl­ish tone of the book might sug­gest – in her late for­ties, we gath­er – and twice divorced by the time she was pro­filed in the New­cas­tle Jour­nal in 1969.

Before the main event, indi­vid­ual pubs crop up here and there – the Grapes in Wap­ping is accu­rate­ly described as ‘an old saw­dusty riv­er pub’ where the staff give direc­tions to a par­tic­u­lar­ly good but hard-to-find Chi­nese restau­rant.

One of the best lines in the book, thrown away in an itin­er­ary for a walk, is, we’re cer­tain, a dig at male guide­book writ­ers of the peri­od who could­n’t resist rat­ing bar­maids:

The Colville Tav­ern at 72 Kings Road… [has] the best-look­ing bar­man in Lon­don. Ask for Charles.

Pubs are giv­en real, focused treat­ment in the dying pages of the book, which is a state­ment in its own right.

From Mon­day until Sat­ur­day this Sun­day is the Local Pub­lic House of some­body else in whom once has no inter­est what­so­ev­er. How­ev­er… on Sun­day at the hour of noon it is entered imme­di­ate­ly by the knowl­edge­able tosspot in order that he may refresh him­self in con­vivial com­pa­ny, while his wife cooks the joint to which he even­tu­al­ly return too late to avoid unpleas­ant­ness… Mean­while, the reg­u­lar vis­i­tor to this Sun­day Pub (whose Local Pub­lic House it is from Mon­day until Sat­ur­day) will repair to anoth­er Sun­day Pub because it is con­sid­ered not schmaltzy to take drink in one’s own Local Pub­lic House upon a Sun­day.

Inevitably, the first pub to get a write-up is the Grenadier, which we vis­it­ed ear­li­er this year:

This very old pub is impos­si­ble to find. You can wan­der around the chi-chi lit­tle mews sur­round­ing it, absorb­ing the untrace­able ema­na­tions of Guards sub­al­terns and debu­tantes with­out actu­al­ly ever see­ing any­thing but a chi-chi lit­tle mews… A dread silence occa­sion­al­ly falls upon the place… [because] some­body has mis­laid a debu­tante.

The Kings Head and Eight Bells in Chelsea sounds like fun, with peo­ple drink­ing out­side in the embank­ment gar­dens on Sun­day morn­ing, or block­ing the road ‘where they risk being knocked drin­k­less by oth­er cognoscen­ti in fast sports job’. It is, Ms. James says, ‘exclu­sive­ly patro­n­ised by absolute­ly every­body who isn’t any­body’. Sad­ly, this one seems to be a goner.

A drawing of a pub interior.
The inte­ri­or of the Square Rig­ger by John Coop­er.

Of course we got real­ly excit­ed at the descrip­tion of a theme pub, the Square Rig­ger in the City, near Mon­u­ment Sta­tion:

Ful­ly rigged with seag­ull cries and the sound of break­ing surf there is also an enor­mous social schism between the Cap­tain’s Cab­in and the Mess Decks both 1 and 2… ‘Tween decks there are rope lad­ders, sails, and yard-arms and that. Togeth­er with a lot of beau­ti­ful­ly pol­ished brass bar-top.

We see from that it was a notable booze bunker, before its demo­li­tion in the 1980s.

Back to those clas­sic mews pubs of west Lon­don, the Star in Bel­gravia, of course, gets a men­tion, and rather a cheeky one: ‘Well now… The best thing we can say about this pub is that all the afore­men­tioned miss­ing debu­tantes may be dis­cov­ered here… recov­er­ing… And some of them sim­ply aching for the utter, utter blis­sikins of get­ting mis­laid again as soon as pos­si­ble’.

The Wind­sor Cas­tle in Kens­ing­ton appar­ent­ly had ‘Lus­cious sand­wich­es’ and quite the scene going on, with actors in the bar and ‘a pig ogling a cow in the pleas­ant walled gar­den’.

The last pub tip is giv­en reluc­tant­ly:

There is of course one Sun­day Pub to which affi­ciona­dos resort of a Sun­day evening. How­ev­er, it could so eas­i­ly be com­plete­ly ruined by hyper­me­trop­ic inva­sion that I hard­ly like to men­tion it. This is the Lil­liput Hall, a Courage’s house at 9 Jamaica Road SE1, where, at around 9 pm, com­mences the best not-too-far-out jazz this side of par­adise. The hun­dred per cent pro­fes­sion­al group ren­der­ings are led by the guv’nor, Bert Annable, a name to be con­jured with in the busi­ness, since he’s worked with Cyril Sta­ple­ton and Paul Fenoul­het, among oth­ers.

Sound like a laugh. Now, it goes with­out say­ing, flats, but the records some nice first­hand mem­o­ries.

We reck­on it’d have been quite nice to read an entire book about pubs by Bet­ty James. She seems to have a feel for them, and her arch­ness is amus­ing.

A Designer Reflects on Pubs, 1968

The typical English pub, sought after by the foreign tourist, is an established part of the British way of life. But like everything else it is changing. What was it, what is it and what will it be?”

That’s the ques­tion John Mer­il­ion asks at the open­ing of a sub­stan­tial arti­cle pub­lished in the arts sup­ple­ment of the Birm­ing­ham Post for Sat­ur­day 30 Novem­ber 1968.

Mer­il­ion was a design con­sul­tant work­ing in the Mid­lands and a lec­tur­er at the Birm­ing­ham Col­lege of Art and Design, and was appar­ent­ly still around as recent­ly as 2014. He was pro­fes­sion­al­ly involved in pub design as in the case of the Red Admi­ral on the Sut­ton Hill estate at the new town of Made­ley in Shrop­shire.

The Red Admiral, Madeley.
John Mer­il­ion’s but­ter­fly for The Red Admi­ral, Made­ley. SOURCE: Made­ley Mat­ters.

His arti­cle for the Post offers a sum­ma­ry of the devel­op­ment of the design of the Eng­lish pub with a strong line of argu­ment: Vic­to­ri­an town pubs were beau­ti­ful, offer­ing a bold, glit­ter­ing con­trast to the slum hous­es around them; but when brew­eries began to own large estates of their own pubs and then, after World War I, to set up their own archi­tects’ depart­ments, it all went wrong. They became too clean, lack­ing atmos­phere and dis­tinc­tion, as homes came up in qual­i­ty to meet them.

What’s real­ly inter­est­ing to us about this piece, though, is that Mer­il­ion offers a con­sid­ered, bal­anced, occa­sion­al­ly sur­pris­ing view of where pubs were at in 1968, at the height of the theme pub craze:

Ask most peo­ple and they seem to want atmos­phere – the only uni­ver­sal plea – with com­fort run­ning a close sec­ond. There are of course a few chaps who say that all they want is well-kept beer!

(Note there more evi­dence of the CAMRA ten­den­cy well before CAMRA.)

Nobody actu­al­ly says they des­per­ate­ly want to drink in a hunt­ing lodge in Har­borne, or beer cel­lar in Bear­wood, or a galleon on the Ring­way. How­ev­er, most peo­ple do not active­ly dis­like these sur­round­ings, and no doubt a strong case can be made out for their exis­tence. They are sure­ly prefer­able to the pseu­do-tra­di­tion­al Geor­gian or Tudor chintz tea-room ver­sions.

Despite seem­ing to stick up for theme pubs to a degree, Mer­il­ion goes on to stick the knife in:

This exten­sion of the name of the pub set­ting the theme for the entire inte­ri­or decor is a com­par­a­tive­ly recent inno­va­tion and is being employed exten­sive­ly where new urban pubs are con­cerned. Any why should the brew­ers neglect such a sure-fire idea which is obvi­ous­ly pop­u­lar with the cus­tomers? After all, the oppor­tu­ni­ties are fan­tas­tic – why not a Dr Who space-fic­tion set, or the labyrinth from Bar­barel­la… Only that all these things are sheer gim­mick­ry, equal­ly suit­able for cof­fee bars, restau­rants, night clubs and bou­tiques. They rep­re­sent lost oppor­tu­ni­ties for the dar­ing and excit­ing use of con­tem­po­rary meth­ods and mate­ri­als to main­tain the specif­i­cal­ly pub­lic house atmos­phere.

Too many theme pubs were exces­sive­ly lit­er­al, work­ing the theme through­out the whole pub, lit­er­al­ly “turn­ing the build­ing into a fake cas­tle, pad­dock or barn”. This pres­sure, accord­ing to archi­tects and design­ers he spoke to, came from the brew­eries, and the over-the-top, over-lit­er­al theme ele­ments were some­times applied to the pub after the fact, rather against the design­er’s intent.

None of the new pubs in Birm­ing­ham were any good, in his opin­ion,  fail­ing to achieve a state of “friend­ly but not freaky”, though he does have a cou­ple of kind words to say about The Out­rig­ger in the city cen­tre where “a good atmos­phere exists in the pseu­do-galleon (com­plete with sea-sounds)”.

The Outrigger.
The Out­rig­ger, Birm­ing­ham, post­ed online by ‘Zak’. SOURCE: Birm­ing­ham Forum.

Mer­il­ion’s argu­ment here­after is a smart one: putting aside spe­cif­ic Vic­to­ri­an style and method, why should­n’t a mod­ern pub design­er seek to achieve the same essen­tial effects of light, reflec­tion and “glit­ter” using up-to-date mate­ri­als? Sub­ur­ban pubs in the 1960s, he says, have bad light­ing – “an all-embrac­ing orange gloom” which fails to pro­vide highs and lows – why not take advan­tage of mod­ern tech­nol­o­gy to vary the colour and inten­si­ty through­out a pub?

It’s at this point that he comes out with some­thing we could have used a cou­ple of years ago when we were writ­ing 20th Cen­tu­ry Pub: a defence of the Chelsea Drug­store.

The Drug­store, as you might know, was Bass Char­ring­ton’s trendi­est, most self-con­scious­ly mod­ern pub, which opened in West Lon­don in 1968, and famous­ly appears in A Clock­work Orange as the futur­is­tic hall-of-mir­rors shop­ping bou­tique where Alex the Droog hangs out.

The Chelsea Drugstore, 1968
The Chelsea Drug­store. SOURCE: RIBA.

Mer­il­ion says:

One could dis­miss its decor as trendy and fash­ion­able… but nev­er­the­less is has much of the tra­di­tion­al atmos­phere, with its glit­ter­ing air of excite­ment, vibrant clien­tele and robust self-expres­sion.

Return­ing to Birm­ing­ham, then under heavy rede­vel­op­ment, he makes a final plea:

Let us hope that the brew­eries give the right archi­tects and design­ers a freer hand to pro­duce excit­ing and appro­pri­ate solu­tions. Please, not Ye Olde Meate Shoppe, The Town Gaol, and The Sink­ing Barge.

If you wan to read the entire arti­cle it’s avail­able via the British News­pa­per Archive here.

In gen­er­al, the BNA is a ser­vice we high­ly rec­om­mend to any­one with an inter­est in his­to­ry, nos­tal­gia or British cul­ture; it’s about £80 a year, or alter­na­tive­ly, you can prob­a­bly access it at your local library or archive.

Rigby’s Bier Keller, Liverpool, 1968

In the 1960s and 70s German-style beer cellars were all the rage in Britain popping up everywhere from Blackpool to central London, and Liverpool did not miss out on the trend.

We’ve touched on this sub­ject a few times includ­ing in an arti­cle on theme pubs for CAMRA last year and in 20th Cen­tu­ry Pub. Just recent­ly we wrote a sub­stan­tial arti­cle, also for CAMRA, which we expect to appear in the next issue of BEER mag­a­zine. This post, how­ev­er, zooms in one one one exam­ple via an arti­cle in the in-house mag­a­zine of the Tet­ley Walk­er brew­ery group for autumn 1969.

Cover of the magazine.

Rig­by’s on Dale Street is a famous Liv­er­pool pub now run by Okel­l’s of the Isle of Man. In 1968, how­ev­er, it was part of the Allied Brew­eries empire man­aged under as part of the Walk­er Cain sub-group. Just before Christ­mas that year Rig­by’s newest fea­ture, a Bierkeller, was unveiled in the low-beamed cel­lar:

Much of the char­ac­ter of the keller was already there, for the old cel­lars of Rig­by’s still have their ancient flag­stone floors, orig­i­nal cast iron stan­chions and stone block walls… To this exist­ing set­ting were added girls in tra­di­tion­al Bavar­i­an cos­tume to serve the drinks, long beech tables and bench­es – four tons of tim­ber went into their mak­ing – Ger­man poster on the walls and two doors marked Damen and Her­ren.

The Keller

It’s some­times hard to tell how seri­ous­ly brew­eries took this kind of thing. Some­times it seemed to be a sin­cere effort to evoke a Ger­man atmos­phere – don’t for­get, many British drinkers at this point had actu­al­ly been to Ger­many thanks to the war and the sub­se­quent cold war – while oth­ers were… less so. Rig­by’s was cer­tain­ly an exam­ple of the for­mer per­haps because Liv­er­pool in par­tic­u­lar had strong Ger­man con­nec­tions (think of the Bea­t­les in Ham­burg) and a fair­ly sub­stan­tial reverse traf­fic with enough Ger­mans in Liv­er­pool to war­rant their own church from 1960. There was also a per­ma­nent Ger­man con­sulate and it was the com­mer­cial attache, H.C. von Her­warth, who opened Rig­by’s Bierkeller and “drew the first stein of lager”.

Open­ing night at Rig­by’s Bierkeller. Those aren’t Bavar­i­an hats.

But Rig­by’s Ger­man-flavoured ven­ture had anoth­er advan­tage: the licensee was one John Bur­chardt:

Mr Bur­chardt came to Eng­land as a pris­on­er of war in 1946. He worked on farms in this coun­try and he liked liv­ing here so much that when he was released and was giv­en the option of return­ing to his coun­try.… he decid­ed to come back and take a civil­ian job.… He mar­ried an Eng­lish girl and Mr and Mrs Bur­chardt have a fam­i­ly of four boys.

A family photograph.
The Bur­chardts.

For once, we have been able to gath­er a bit more bio­graph­i­cal infor­ma­tion about the name­less spouse: Mrs Bur­chardt was called Edith and was born in Wales in 1932. The same source tells us that John was actu­al­ly called Wern­er and was born in Dort­mund but per­haps grew up in Danzig (now Gdańsk, Poland) which might be why he did­n’t want to go home. And anoth­er per­haps: he may have end­ed up in Liv­er­pool because of fam­i­ly con­nec­tions as one Otto Bur­chardt was appoint­ed con­sul to the King of Prus­sia in Liv­er­pool in 1841 and was buried there when he died in 1882.

But, back to pubs: John Bur­chardt told the reporter for TW mag­a­zine that he did­n’t see much dif­fer­ence between run­ning a Bavar­i­an Bierkeller and an Eng­lish pub like the one upstairs. Here’s the pub­lic bar in a shot tak­en, we think, from just about exact­ly where we sat when we vis­it­ed in 2016:

Pub interior

We don’t know yet what became of Rig­by’s Bierkeller but, based on our research into oth­ers, we’d guess it slow­ly went down­mar­ket and became less Ger­man before fold­ing in the late 1970s. (The stan­dard pat­tern.)

But if you know oth­er­wise, or remem­ber drink­ing there dur­ing its Ger­mani­cised phase, do com­ment below or drop us a line.

The Alpine Gasthof: Let’s Crack This

We’ve been working on an article about German Bierkellers in English towns in the 1970s and as a side quest found ourselves looking into one of the UK’s weirdest pubs: The Alpine Gasthof, Rochdale.

We’ve nev­er been, though it’s very much on the wish­list, but Tan­dle­man wrote about his vis­it ear­li­er in the year:

Per­haps the odd­est of Sam Smith’s pubs is its take-off of a Ger­man local pub, uproot­ed it seems, in looks if noth­ing else, from Garmisch or some oth­er Alpine resort. Only it is in Rochdale. Not only is it in Rochdale, but it is on a busy main road, which if you fol­low it for not too long, will take you to Bacup. This is the Land that Time For­got. Don’t do that… Not only is it incon­gru­ous­ly in Rochdale, but it is in a less than salu­bri­ous part of town… The pub has the usu­al Ger­man style high slop­ing roof and inside is, well, a sort of pas­tiche of a Ger­man pub, but done, unusu­al­ly for Sam’s, sort of on the cheap.

Although there are lots of pho­tos, and though every­one seems quite fas­ci­nat­ed by the place, there don’t seem to be many con­crete facts. When was it built? Why?

We did­n’t hold out great hopes for any infor­ma­tion from the brew­ery which is noto­ri­ous­ly tight-lipped but did get this, which is a start:

The Alpine Gasthof was built in the 1970s (don’t have the exact date to hand) because the pre­vi­ous pub we had on that site had to be demol­ished for road widen­ing. To have a bit of fun we decid­ed to build a pub mod­elled on the Brauerei Gasthof Hotel in Aying, Ger­many because at that time we were brew­ing Ayinger beer under licence.

We can well imag­ine Sam Smith’s execs going to Aying dur­ing licence nego­ti­a­tions and being charmed by the orig­i­nal, pic­tured here in a shot tak­en from the gallery on the hotel web­site:

Brauereigasthof-Hotel-Aying exterior.

Although, odd­ly, the pas­tiche does­n’t look that much like it. Here it is pho­tographed in 2013, via Ian S on under a Cre­ative Com­mons Licence:

The Alpine Gasthof, Rochdale.

With a bit more to go on we reck­on we can guess that the date of its con­struc­tion was around 1972, at the tail-end of the theme pub craze (Fur­ther read­ing: Chap­ter 5 in 20th Cen­tu­ry Pub) and just as the Ger­man Bierkeller trend was kick­ing in. That’s also when Sam Smith’s start­ed brew­ing Ayinger-brand­ed beers. But we’re awful short on actu­al evi­dence. We thought this might be some­thing…

Google Search result.

…but there are two prob­lems. First, though Google Books has the date of pub­li­ca­tion as 1972 the par­tic­u­lar issue ref­er­enc­ing the Alpine Gasthof might be from, say, 1978. We’ve come across this prob­lem in the past. It’s hard to know until you have the jour­nal in front of you, ful­ly read­able. Sec­ond­ly… It says Wether­by, York­shire. Sure­ly some mis­take? But, no, appar­ent­ly not – there is at least one oth­er (slight­ly odd) ref­er­ence to an Alpine Gasthaus in Wether­by, giv­ing the address as Bor­ough­bridge Road, LS22 5HH. That led us to this local news sto­ry about the burn­ing down in 2005 of the Alpine Lodge, a two-storey chalet-style build­ing in Kirk Deighton (Wether­by). There are var­i­ous oth­er bits out there includ­ing this inter­view with the cou­ple who ran it for sev­er­al decades and a teas­ing­ly indis­tinct pho­to tak­en from a mov­ing car in bright sun­light on this Face­book nos­tal­gia web­site. We’ve tak­en the lib­er­ty of repro­duc­ing it here, with some tweaks – hope­ful­ly no-one will mind.

The Alpine Inn AKA the Alpine Lodge.

What a bizarre build­ing to find there on the side of the A1.

And that leaves us with two Alpine-style Sam Smith’s pubs to be puz­zled about.

So, do drop us a line if you know any­thing con­crete about the ori­gins of either pub (that is, not reck­on­ings or guess­es); have friends or fam­i­ly mem­bers who might have drunk in them; or live near either Rochdale or Wether­by and fan­cy pop­ping to your local library to look at news­pa­pers for 1972.

Irish Pubs, English Pubs and the Essence of Pubness, 1964

A pint of stout.

Was part of the appeal of the Irish pub in the 1980s and 90s that real Irish pubs were more like ideal of the English pubs than English pubs had become?

This fan­tas­tic arti­cle by Irish jour­nal­ist Mary Hol­land (1935–2004) pub­lished in Jan­u­ary 1964 cov­ers mul­ti­ple issues in a few hun­dred pithy words.

First, the mys­tique of Dublin pubs: ‘I’ve always gone along with the belief that any Dublin bar has a mag­ic aura which caus­es the talk to shim­mer and sparkle as fast as the Guin­ness flows.’

Then their true qual­i­ties: ‘I now think the Dublin pub mys­tique is thriv­ing as nev­er before for the sim­ple rea­son that its pubs are more com­fort­able.’

(See also a relat­ed 1996 columns from the Pub Cur­mud­geon here.)

And, final­ly, there’s a point­ed exam­i­na­tion of the state of Eng­lish pubs in the mid-1960s:

One of the most recent attempts to revamp a pub­’s image in cen­tral Lon­don is a bar designed to appeal to ‘busi­ness exec­u­tives and the younger set,’ in which rat­tan cane, murals of brood­ing bud­dhas, slat­ted bam­boo swing doors and a back­ground of jun­gle nois­es are among the attrac­tions. Yet this is only an extreme exam­ple of the way the brew­ers seem bent on cater­ing to a city of pub-lovers. Giv­en that the beer is good (and I know that this is anoth­er ques­tion), I can’t believe that any­one wants to drink his pint, let alone talk the evening through with friends, in the kind of South Seas Traders tav­ern or sub-Scan­di­na­vian bar which seems to appear when­ev­er the painters and dec­o­ra­tors move in on an ordi­nary pub.

You can imag­ine how that delight­ed us, what with our ongo­ing obses­sion with theme pubs.

In gen­er­al the Spec­ta­tor archive is a fan­tas­tic resource: search­able, ful­ly indexed, with mate­r­i­al pro­vid­ed as both OCRd text and orig­i­nal page scans. Our ram­blings through it to date sug­gest that it was very much a wet office – there’s lots of cov­er­age of beer and pubs – so if you’ve got a pet obses­sion, give it a search and see what you can turn up.