J.B. Priestley in Bradford, on Sunday, in the rain

In his travelogue English Journey, published in 1934 but based on observations made in the autumn of 1933, the writer J.B. Priestley unknowingly foretells the fate of the public house.

We’ve been dip­ping in and out of this book, with H.V. Mor­ton’s In Search of Eng­land as a com­pan­ion piece, for about a year now. It lends itself to dip­ping, each chap­ter cov­er­ing a dif­fer­ent part of the coun­try and com­plete as stand­alone essays.

In ‘To the West Rid­ing’, Priest­ley lands in Brad­ford on Sun­day evening as heavy driz­zle falls, and is all but begged by locals not to go into the town cen­tre: ‘“But there isn’t any­thing,” they almost screamed.’

He finds the warn­ing accu­rate: there’s a Sal­va­tion Army band play­ing, a cou­ple of cafés shut­ting up, and some shop win­dow dis­plays to look at, while young peo­ple ‘prom­e­nade’ – that is, walk up and down in the rain.

Ever since I can remem­ber, elder­ly cit­i­zens have been protest­ing against this prac­tice of prom­e­nad­ing on Sun­day nights. They have always been dis­gust­ed by the sight of young peo­ple mon­key-parad­ing in this fash­ion. It is, how­ev­er, the same elder­ly cit­i­zens who have seen to it that near­ly all doors lead­ing out of the street shall be locked against these young peo­ple. They can­not lis­ten to plays or music, can­not see films, can­not even sit in big pleas­ant rooms and look at one anoth­er; so they walk up and down the street… They have, of course, to get on with their mat­ing, what­ev­er elder­ly per­sons may think…

Priest­ley’s pub crawl is depress­ing. He finds the first one he vis­its very qui­et with ‘five or six hob­blede­hoys drink­ing glass­es of bit­ter’ and both­er­ing the bar­maid. ‘Noth­ing wrong with the place’, he writes, ‘except that it was dull and stu­pid.’

Pub #2 is busy with young men and ‘women of the town’:

This is not an attack on the place; I have not the least desire to see it closed… [but] can­not see why play­go­ing, lis­ten­ing to music, watch­ing films, even danc­ing, should be con­sid­ered so much worse – or at least more sec­u­lar – than booz­ing with pros­ti­tutes.

The third pub is the liveli­est, large and crowd­ed, with some ‘lit­tle coloured lights in the lounge’.

That was all; noth­ing else, not even rea­son­able com­fort; but it was enough, and every table, every seat was tak­en. Fif­teen shillings’ worth of coloured lamps: this was gai­ety, this was life; and so the place was sell­ing beer, stout, port, as fast as it could serve them, to patrons of both sex­es. I do not think any of these peo­ple – and they were most­ly young, pairs of boys, pairs of girls; with here and there an old­er cou­ple – could real­ly be said to be real­ly enjoy­ing them­selves; but at least they could look at one anoth­er, gig­gle a bit, talk when they found some­thing to say, and admire the car­ni­val splen­dour of the coloured elec­tric lights.

Priest­ley’s con­clu­sion is that it would be bet­ter for sup­pos­ed­ly reli­gious towns to per­mit the break­ing of the Sab­bath if it meant ‘a choice between mon­key-parad­ing and dubi­ous pubs’.

It strikes us that what he has land­ed on, in analysing one Sun­day night in one town, is a diag­no­sis of the whole prob­lem with pubs: they were the default for many peo­ple not nec­es­sar­i­ly because they were love­ly, but for lack of any alter­na­tive.

As hous­es got bet­ter and big­ger, more peo­ple stayed at home. As open­ing hours relaxed and the range of busi­ness­es in towns broad­ened (cof­fee shops, snack bars), pubs ceased to be the only option.

Their monop­oly came to an end.

For more on pubs, includ­ing pros­ti­tu­tion, fight­ing, spit­ting and riots, do check out our book 20th Cen­tu­ry Pub. For more on Brad­ford pubs in par­tic­u­lar hunt down Paul Jenning’s The Pub­lic House in Brad­ford 1770–1970, pub­lished in 1995. Main image above adapt­ed from one sup­plied by Brad­ford Libraries on Flickr.

Only Watney’s could be so bold

Can you see spot what drew us to the tatty old postcard of Main Street, Haworth, West Yorkshire, from the 1960s, reproduced above?

That’s right – it’s the adver­tise­ment for Wat­ney’s, neat­ly cam­ou­flaged against the brick wall to the left, above a yel­low enam­el sign adver­tis­ing St Bruno tobac­co.

This par­tic­u­lar Wat­ney’s ad cam­paign ran from as ear­ly as 1937, as explained by Ron Pat­tin­son here, along with details of why this design was so suc­cess­ful. Ron also pro­vides a love­ly image of the poster which we’ve tak­en the lib­er­ty of nick­ing:

What we want is Watneys
SOURCE: Shut Up About Bar­clay Perkins.

The real­ly inter­est­ing thing about the post­card, though, is that this poster should have appeared in York­shire, 200 miles from the brew­ery’s home in Lon­don.

In the 1960s, Wat­ney’s grew and took over region­al brew­eries around the UK. It took over Bev­er­ley Broth­ers of Wake­field in 1967 and began invest­ing in Web­ster’s of Hal­i­fax at around the same time, tak­ing it over com­plete­ly in 1972.

So the poster in the post­card is a sym­bol of the arrival of nation­al brands, and of the homogeni­sa­tion of beer that trig­gered the found­ing of the Cam­paign for Real Ale in the 1970s.

But it’s not all one-sided: if you look close­ly, you might be able to pick out a small enam­el sign adver­tis­ing Tet­ley’s next to the Wat­ney’s poster. That, too, would become a nation­al brand, tak­ing a taste of York­shire to the rest of the coun­try.

Saddleworth Pub Carpets, 1966

Graham Turner’s fascinating 1967 book The North Country paints portraits of towns and cities from Wigan to Durham, often stopping off in pubs and clubs on the way.

You might remem­ber us quot­ing from it before, on the sub­ject of Pak­istani migrants attempt­ing to inte­grate into pub life in Brad­ford in the 1960s.

The rather less polit­i­cal­ly charged extract below, from a chap­ter called ‘Over the Top’ about Sad­dle­worth Moor, grabbed our atten­tion for a cou­ple of rea­sons.

No group of peo­ple in the val­ley are in more demand than the mem­bers of the Boarshurst Sil­ver Band. George Gib­son, a large, enor­mous­ly jovial man with a great red face who plays the ‘bas­so pro­fun­do’ and also teach­es brass in the local schools, reck­ons to be out either play­ing or teach­ing ‘very near every night’… [He] said over a pint at the King William [that] find­ing play­ers was not any par­tic­u­lar prob­lem – “you find me twen­ty-four instru­ments and I’ll find you twen­ty-four kids”. The King William, inci­den­tal­ly, is one of the pubs in Sad­dle­worth which has treat­ed itself to wall-to-wall car­pet­ing, an extrav­a­gance which [local char­ac­ter] John Ken­wor­thy thinks has changed them from forums of dis­cus­sion into mere drink­ing places. At one end of the bar were a group of the men we had been drink­ing with the night before at the Gen­tle­man’s [Club], now deeply engrossed in a catholic selec­tion of rac­ing papers. At the oth­er were half a dozen men in over­alls.

So:

  1. Car­pets were seen as tak­ing pubs downmar­ket, some­how? Mak­ing them more friv­o­lous?
  2. A reminder that pub car­pets aren’t a great old tra­di­tion – they’re a rel­a­tive­ly new devel­op­ment.
  3. And, car­pets aside, a reminder of how class seg­re­ga­tion can hap­pen even with­out phys­i­cal bound­aries.

In case you’re won­der­ing, by the way, the William IV is still there, and still trad­ing as a pub.

Passing Thoughts on Yorkshire Beer

Collage: Yorkshire Beer.

We spent a few days in Yorkshire last week (Leeds-Harrogate-York) and reached a couple of tentative conclusions.

1. Tim­o­thy Tay­lor Land­lord, like Bass, and prob­a­bly like many oth­er beers, can be so dif­fer­ent as to be unrecog­nis­able from one pub to the next. We’re not say­ing it’s an incon­sis­tent prod­uct but that it has a lot of poten­tial for change depend­ing on how it’s han­dled by pubs. We had pints that were bone dry and stony, and oth­ers that were sweet and nec­tar-like – old­er and younger respec­tive­ly we assume. We almost always enjoy it but there seems to be a real sweet spot where it becomes a lit­tle less cloy­ing and gains a sort of peach-like flavour with­out com­plete­ly dry­ing out. Expert opin­ion wel­come below, of course. In the mean­time, we’ll keep test­ing our find­ings when we can.

2. We might have final­ly zeroed in on the essence of York­shire bit­ter. Tet­ley*, Black Sheep and Tay­lor’s Bolt­mak­er, as well as look­ing more alike in the glass than we recall, all had the same chal­leng­ing, hot, rub­ber-band tang. We’ve noticed it before in Bolt­mak­er but hon­est­ly just thought it was on the turn. But there it was again in mul­ti­ple pints of Bolt­mak­er, in dif­fer­ent pubs, even in dif­fer­ent cities, and in mul­ti­ple pints of the oth­ers, too. It’s most pro­nounced in Bolt­mak­er (Jes­si­ca likes it, Ray finds it too much) and gen­tlest in the cur­rent incar­na­tion of Tet­ley (Ray likes it, Jes­si­ca finds it rather bland) but def­i­nite­ly the same thing. This is where our tech­ni­cal tast­ing skills let us down, unfor­tu­nate­ly. Is this maybe what peo­ple mean by ‘sul­phurous’? Again, expert sug­ges­tions wel­come.

* No longer brewed in York­shire, we know.

3. North­ern pale-n-hop­py beer is more to our taste than Lon­don or Bris­tol takes on the same style, on the whole. We knew this already, real­ly, but this trip con­firmed it. With­out want­i­ng to seem dog­mat­ic about clar­i­ty (we’re not) beers from brew­eries such as North­ern Monk, Roost­er’s and Ossett were per­fect­ly clear with a light­ness and dry­ness that made them impos­si­ble to drink in any­thing less than great hearty gulps. Even with plen­ty of flavour and aro­ma there’s a cer­tain del­i­ca­cy there – per­fect engi­neer­ing. We did find our­selves won­der­ing if per­haps we’ve grown to pre­fer sparklers for this style because (per this post for $2+ Patre­on sub­scribers) the noto­ri­ous wid­get has a capac­i­ty for round­ing off hard edges and smooth­ing out flaws. ‘Don’t @ us’, as the kids say.

VIDEO: Old Hill Inn, Yorkshire, 1979

The 50-minute 1979 doc­u­men­tary film Under­ground Eiger is pri­mar­i­ly about cav­ing but there is a won­der­ful two-minute sequence which begins at 23:49 filmed at The Old Hill Inn in the York­shire Dales.

It’s a par­ty rather than a typ­i­cal night at the pub but nonethe­less gives a won­der­ful sense of atmos­phere, and is cer­tain­ly a great anti­dote to that grim stereo­typ­i­cal ‘York­shire’ pub por­trayed in An Amer­i­can Were­wolf in Lon­don.

You can find more infor­ma­tion on the film and watch what might be a high­er qual­i­ty copy at the BFI web­site.

We were sent this link by Robin Old­field – thanks, Robin!