20th Century Pub pubs

The Monckton, Portsmouth: a pub built under fire

Something unusual happened in 1942: a new pub came into being. That’s right – not an inter-war pub, or post-war, but one built right in the thick of it.

When we wrote 20th Century Pub back in 2015-17, we included a chapter on the wartime pub because it felt important. Other chapters were about new developments and new types of pub coming into being; this was about recording a void, or pause.

Pubs weren’t built or opened during World War II, they were destroyed. Even if there had been a will to build, there was a shortage of manpower and building materials.

Of course there were odd exceptions: pubs whose construction was underway before the war, completed just over the line; and temporary pubs in shacks, sheds and stables which appeared later on.

But the Monckton in Portsmouth is, we think, the first example we’ve come across of a somewhat substantial, somewhat solid pub actually being built during World War II.

We say ‘somewhat’ because, well, look at it. A single storey, raw brick, no embellishments and windows like those of a pillbox. If you told us it was converted from an air-raid shelter, we wouldn’t doubt it.

Here’s what Philip Eley and R.C. Riley have to say in their excellent 1991 monograph on the Portsmouth pubs between 1900 and 1950:

[It employed] a beerhouse licence transferred from the Dockyard Tavern, Marlborough Row (which had been enveloped by the Dockyard extension)… The site had been bought by United Breweries in 1911, and remarkably, in the light of the ersatz nature of the ultimate construction, the first application for a licence in 1928 was backed by a design from [important local architect A.E.] Cogswell himself. Four subsequent unsuccessful applications between 1929 and 1939 can hardly have presaged what was arguably Portsmouth’s most distinctive drinking house until its closure in 1982.

The picture above, sourced from the same booklet, was taken in 1946 so this was clearly the pub in its finished state, not under construction as suggested here.

That page at includes another picture of the pub, though, prettied up in the post-war period, with rendering, whitewash and some cute external adornments.

Copnor Road in 1972

Copnor Road in 1972 with The Monckton in the background, via The News, Portsmouth.

Like many make-do-and-mend pubs of the 1940s and early 1950s, The Monckton survived longer than might have been expected, still trading into the 1980s.

What isn’t immediately obvious is why construction of this pub was authorised during a time of restrictions.

“Bet this was controversial,” we said to ourselves and it didn’t take long to find evidence that, yes, it was, in the form of a letter to the Portsmouth Evening News published on 13 February 1942:

Sir – On Sunday night I listened to Sir Stafford Cripps giving his very interesting and informative talk on Russia’s mighty effort to win the war. During this talk every listener was more or less asked, by Sir Stafford, to search his or her conscience as to whether they were engaged on or doing 100 per cent, work and thought, to bring about the same conclusion… I always feel that it is not fair to judge a nation’s effort by one own city or locality. There would, however, appear to something wrong in Portsmouth when I notice this afternoon a new public-house being built on Copnor Road. Surely the men engaged in this contract, and the materials being used, could be put to our war effort, at this critical time? I know the answer will be “a licence was granted,” but what right had that particular public servant to grant such a licence? He was given his present position to control the building industry and direct its use to the war effort, not to evade the Government Order (Restricting New Buildings) by issuing permits. It appears to that we want quite a number of men in key positions who can say and definitely mean it.

Our guess, pending further research, is that it was a question of morale.

Portsmouth lost 73 pubs to enemy action during 1940-41 and Eley and Riley reckon more than a hundred had been destroyed by February 1942.

Perhaps sparing a few bricks for the construction of a basic two-room pub felt worth it.

Beer history

Beer in ‘Victory’ magazine, September 1945

Victory was the magazine for armed services in India during World War II. We found a solitary tatty copy in a bargain bin in a bookshop – the September 1945 edition – and of course noticed references to beer throughout.

First, there are the adverts: one in the front for lager and one at the back for pale ale and stout. (Here’s Murree today; and here’s Mohan Meakin.)

Advert for lion pilsener beer. Advert for Solan pale ale and XXX stout.

Then there are illustrations for articles and stories which include beer when they don’t need to – the first accompanies a comic tall tale of the adventures of an RAF officer, and the second a soupy tale of a soldier falling in love remotely with a comrade’s sister.

RAF officer with pint. Photo and pints of beer.

Finally, though it has no illustration of note, there’s a fantastic piece called ‘The Man in the Corner on… Rationing’. The Man in the Corner is a hectoring bore who argues in favour of continuing rationing even after the war because he thinks it’s good for people, good for society, and inconveniences people he doesn’t like. The punchline is:

There’s only one thing I’m all against rationing – and that’s beer. It’s fair tired me out this war running from pub to pub – first it’s fetch your own glass, then it’s only half-a-pint served at any one time, then it’s regular customers only… there’s half-a-dozen kinds of what you might call rationing. And I hate the lot of them.

All of this ties into a theory we’ve had brewing for a while: that the reason beer and pubs suddenly became respectable topics to write about, and acceptable as hobbies, was because of the general breakdown of class distinctions brought about by the war. We’re going to explore that thought a little more in another blog post soon.

Beer history pubs videos

VIDEO: Advice for Americans on English Pubs, 1943

We were alerted to the presence of this film on YouTube by Anthony Harper (@anthonymharper) and it’s a corker.

It was made as a joint production of the US and UK governments and was intended, in short, to prevent American soldiers acting like dickheads in Britain. The host is Burgess Meredith (BatmanRocky) and he spends the first third of the film — about ten minutes — in an English country pub:

We’re not trying to show you the perfect way to behave in a pub. We’re only trying to point out that some of these people are a little more reserved than some of us. If you take it easy a little bit, just at the beginning… you’ll make some damn good friends.

It’s staged with the interior filmed on a studio set but, as it’s intended to be educational rather than propaganda, we can probably assume it’s a fairly accurate portrayal. In fact, the advice is still good, on the whole:

What’s that? What’s the difference between bitter and mild? I don’t know. One’s bitter and one’s mild. You’d better find out for yourself…

Beer history pubs quotes

QUOTE: Something Will Turn Up, 1940

Dominoes in the pub, 1940.
Men playing dominoes in the pub, LIFE magazine, 1940.

This is the text of an anonymous advertisement (probably placed by the Brewers’ Society) that ran in The Times on 10 January 1940:

Disraeli once said that the real motto of the English people is — “something will turn up.”

It is certainly true that not even the advent of a European war, nor the threats of raids, nor the frustration of the black-out have dimmed our cheerful faith and philosophy among us.

It is in the pub where one sees it best. Around the glasses of beer the people of all classes have found a warm, bright, kindly atmosphere in which cheerfulness supplants alarm. The pub gives relaxation. It promotes our national democratic feeling.

And beer too has played its traditional part in keeping us friendly, buoyant and good tempered. Good barley malt and country hops brewed in the manner handed down to us through the centuries has been John Bull’s drink in many a hard day — giving him the health to withstand and courage to endure!

(Exeunt. Alarum, and chambers go off.)

london photography pubs

GALLERY: Home Front Beer, WWII

We recently discovered the Imperial War Museum digital archive which is (perhaps surprisingly) crammed with pictures of pubs, beer and brewing.

Here are some of the best shots of ‘everyday life’ on the home front during World War II shared under the terms of their non-commercial license. (Click the ID numbers to go to the IWM website for bigger versions and more info.)

A mixed group of uniformed men and a barmaid.
Allied soldiers in a London pub, 1940. © IWM (D 1725)
A dimly lit pub with soldiers in discussion.
Home Guard members in a pub in Orford, Suffolk, 1941. © IWM (D 4852)