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 whatpub.com 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 closedpubs.co.uk 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”.

Revellers.
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 Geograph.org.uk 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.

HELP US: Theme Pubs

We’re keen to talk to or exchange emails with people who worked at, drank in, or were involved in the management, design or administration (brewery side) of the pubs listed below.

The time frame we’re interested in is between 1945 and, say, 1980, so please pass this request on to any industry veterans, or veteran drinkers, you might know.

No recollection is too insignificant — we need all the material we can get.

It’s best to email us via contact@boakandbailey.com or comment below and we’ll work something out.

  • The Bull’s Head, Handforth, Cheshire (bullfighting theme)
  • The Chelsea Drugstore, King’s Road, London (futuristic, boutiques)
  • The Dolphin, Liverpool (submarine)
  • The Gallopers, Bradford, West Yorkshire (fairground theme)
  • The Golden Arrow, Beckenham, Kent (train theme)
  • UPDATE 01/12/2015: The Horseless Carriage, Chingford, Essex (vintage cars)
  • The Lord Protector, Huntingdon (Cromwell themed, apparently)
  • The Malt & Hops, Finchley, London (hops/farming)
  • The Nag’s Head, James St./Floral St., Covent Garden, London (theatre)
  • The Printer’s Devil, Fetter Lane, London (printing)
  • The Sherlock Holmes, Northumberland Street, London (er, Sherlock Holmes)
  • The Stonehouse, Sheffield, South Yorkshire (Elizabethan street)
  • The Warrior, Surrey Quays, London (space age disco pub — see below)
  • The Yorker, Piccadilly, London (cricket)

The Warrior, Surrey Quays.

This won’t be the last request of this sort in the coming months but we’ll try to space them out…

One Pub to Tell the Story


View Larger Map
We’ve been considering, for the purposes of this here book we’re working on, whether there’s a single pub in which the whole story of British beer since 1963 is encapsulated. We haven’t hit on one yet, but we’ve found a couple of interesting candidates. Consider, for example, the Nag’s Head in Hampstead, which tells at least part of the story.

Though some sources say there was a pub here from 1698, the present building seems to have appeared in the early nineteenth century (further research could pin this down), and it was not especially genteel at that time.

MARYLEBONE.– Highway Robbery.– Henry Cannon, John Surety, and Thomas Willoughby, three labouring-looking men, were yesterday placed at the bar before the sitting Magistrate… charged with assaulting on the King’s highway a middle-aged woman, named Mary Keal, and taking from her person a shawl and seven shilling in silver… Inspectoer Aggs, of the S division, said that from information he received he went on Wednesday evening, accompanied by one of his men, to the Nag’s Head [on Heath Street]. On entering the taproom he saw the two first Prisoners, who were sitting down. He said to Cannon, “I want you;” and then turning to Shurety said, “I want you also.” Cannon said, “Very well,” and they both got up and finished what they were drinking and left the house with him and the constable. (Morning Post, 22 November 1833)

More than a century later, however, the pub’s name had changed: it had become The Cruel Sea, after Nicholas Monsarrat’s 1951 novel about the Battle of the Atlantic during World War II, and was the quintessential ‘theme pub’, popular with actors. Our guess is that the name change came with the renovation in 1958, but we could be wrong. Here’s what our old chums Martin Green and Tony White had to say in 1968:

…the pub contains nautical gear and prints of whaling ships and the sea, as well as murals by Robert Lenkiewicz. Placed bang in the middle of Hampstead,  it does a brisk trade, though it is seldom too crowded for comfort, like many other pubs near-by. It serves wine by the glass, or by the bottle… as well as draught Guinness and Worthington… The clientele is predominantly young, second-generation Hampstead, whose parents moved here when it was beginning to be fashionable without being too expensive… (Guide to London Pubs, 1968 edn.)

We hadn’t realised that the Cruel Sea, well-known in its day, was the same pub as the Nag’s Head, until Christopher Hutt told us so. As head of CAMRA Real Ale Investments (CAMRAIL), their pub-owning spin-off, in the mid-seventies, one of the first things he did on acquiring this property in 1975 was ditch the theme and revert back to the old-fashioned, properly ‘pubby’ moniker. It was the cause of some anxiety for CAMRA — why were they opening a pub here in competition with several other existing ‘real ale pubs’ rather than in, say, Norwich, which had hardly any decent boozers? And it was frightfully middle class, not to mention expensive. At any rate, it was a runaway success during the years of the ‘real ale craze’.

Between CAMRAIL (which fizzled out in the eighties) and today, the Nag’s Head ceased to be a pub. It is now an estate agent’s office. Which, we suppose, does tell a story of the British pub, albeit one with a rather downbeat ending.

Whatever happened to the theme pub?

Sherlock Holmes pub, London.
One thing all the beer and pub writers from the nineteen-sixties and seventies agree on is this: the theme pub is an abomination and a terrible threat to the ‘proper’ pub. Derek Cooper’s The Beverage Report (1970) has a whole chapter on them.

You only have to turn your back on a pub for a few days now and it has undergone some bizarre transformation. A bewildered beer-drinker sent me this sociological note: ‘A pub that I once knew well was called the Kentish Horseman. Imagine my surprise this week to find it has blossomed out under the name of The Escape. The motif: RAF escapes. The walls are hung with with such trivia as flying uniforms, photos of renowned escapers and Mae Wests etc, etc…’

He also lists pubs themed around the wild west, the roaring twenties, medieval minstrels, torture dungeons, vikings, sailing ships, Kon Tiki, trawlers… you get the idea.

A handful of theme pubs still exist. The Sherlock Holmes on Northumberland Avenue in London is one we’ve visited and it’s not so bad, the Victorian theme happening to overlap quite nicely with what we’d expect of any pub. Penzance has a couple of very ‘piratey’ pubs, as it happens. There are also plenty of international Irish, Australian and German pubs.

Other than these odd freaks, though, the theme pub didn’t really have legs. They were presumably expensive to fit out, each requiring unique design work, and at the mercy of changes in fashion. (The Roaring Twenties are out and the publican is stuck with an oil painting of Al Capone.) At some point, they were given the heave-ho, and the theme for most pubs became ‘pubbiness’: brown wood, sepia-toned prints, ‘useless shelves’ and Victoriana, even in buildings less than thirty years old.

But… is ‘craft beer’ a kind of theme?

Picture by Matt from London, via Flickr Creative Commons.