Wednesday, 16 March 2011

War and the pub

Mass observation was a fascinating project. Sending out researchers to record the minutiae of everyday life. Unsurprisingly, given its role in British life, the pub was one of the subjects of study.

Here's some of what they learned about the pub in wartime. Some seems pretty damn effing obvious.

The "Pub and the People" is the title of a book shortly to be published by Victor Gollanez. Three writers have combined to produce this survey; one of them, Tom Harrisson, is the pioneer of Mass-Observation in this country. Its pages will contain  "an exhaustive survey of the pub. as a cultural institution, based on intensive fieldwork in urban pubs., and other data." Meanwhile, in No. 12 of Us — a weekly news-sheet recording a cross-section of public opinion gleaned by 2,000 observers — is published a survey entitled  "The Pub. in War Time." The days of big drinking, it says, are gone. In 1875, beer was consumed to the extent of 32.5 gallons per head of the population; in 1935 the figure was 17.58 — a 46 per cent. drop. Taxation and restrictive legislation are factors making for this decline, but counter-attractions must be reckoned with also. In 1875, "there were no cinemas, radios, no dog races, no big league football, Littlewood's, or mass circulation newspapers; the social alternatives to drinking were things like religion, playing games (instead of looking at them), the various forms of mutual improvement societies of a cultural, religious or political nature that were widespread amongst the working class at the time."

The mass-observers of Us counted the number of customers in twelve public-houses in the Metropolis between 8.30 and 10 p.m., on Saturday, September 17th, 1938. On Saturday, September 9th, 1939 (in the first week of the war), they counted them again, and found an increase of customers over the twelve houses, averaging 36 per cent. Seven of the houses were observed on the two following Saturday nights (September 16th and 23rd), and again increases of patronage to the extent of 37 per cent, and 47 per cent, respectively were revealed. Thus "the immediate effect of The war on pubbing was to stimulate it tremendously." This is attributed to "a general nervousness and fear of air raids . . . the extra strain necessitated extra relaxation." Again, there was more to talk about than usual, "and the pub. is, above all, a place where people get together and talk to one another in groups."

The same twelve licensed houses were again visited on Saturday, October 7th, 1939, and the number of customers was found still to be higher than on September, 1938, but only by 14 per cent. By the end of October, 1939 (Saturday, the 28th), "pub.-going had gone down to below normal, and a decrease of 15 per cent, on September, 1938, was shown." On December 2nd, 1939, a decrease of 12 per cent, was revealed, and of 13 per cent, on March 2nd, 1940. The final conclusion of Us is that people are drinking — in the Metropolis — rather less than usual. Here they are quite right. The survey also discloses that the proportion of women customers to men (before and after the war) on Saturday nights remained fairly stationary at 35 per cent, to 38 per cent.

One of the most interesting revelations of this survey — known though it be to brewers — is that the various phases of the war affect trade in licensed houses. The beginning of the war brought increased trade almost universally. But Us records that on Saturday, November 4th, an increase of 16 per cent, was shown in the customers of their twelve observation houses despite decreases in the previous weeks; that particular Saturday fell in the week when news was published of the massing of German troops along the Western Front from the North Sea to Switzerland, and people thought that the war might "flare up." Again — and this is our own observation and not that of Us — in the week when Germany invaded Norway and Denmark, and the stagnation of war went by the board, an appreciable increase in the trade of public-houses in the Metropolis was evidenced. A similar relationship between patronage of the licensed house and magnitude of war news has been evidenced since. We think Us has hit the nail on the head when it says—" There was more to talk about than usual, and the pub is, above all, a place where people can get together and talk to one another in groups."
"The Brewers' Journal 1940" pages 474 - 475. (Published June 19th, 1940.)

The first paragraph is revealing about the change in social habits during the 20th century. In the 19th century, there was bugger all for the working classes to do other than go down the pub. I love the way dog races is given equal ranking with the cinema, radio and football.

Counting the number of customers in a pub. Can you imagine having that job? Especially after the outbreak of war. I'd be scared of being suspected a spy. Why's that bloke in the corner writing stuff down?

After the declaration of war, at first more people went to the pub. Then rather less. No great surprise there. Nor that events in the war prompted more pub drinking. I'd want a few pints if I learned panzers were massing along the French border. I bet later in the war they discovered that nightly air raids were bad for pub business. Who wants to drink in a burning pub?

Women in pubs, women drinking. The media and researchers are still obsessed with these subjects. See how often items on binge drinking are accompanied by a photo of a pissed up woman sprawled on a city-centre pavement. 35 to 38% of Saturday night customers were women? I'm surprised it was that high. I'd thought pubs were still a male domain in much of the country. Oh hang, it's London they're on about. That sounds about right, then.


Gary Gillman said...

Circa-1940 Mass-Observation was a pioneer in the studies of public opinion and behviour. It always had a British flavour to me, I believe the concept was invented in England and was widely used to assess popular attitudes to many subjects during World War II. The reaction of East London to the Blitz raids was another area studied by Mass Observation.


Craig said...

They're watching.

Anonymous said...

Football wasn't that big a deal in those days, the main game was cricket.It's quite possible that dog racing drew in larger crowds than we might think.

Thomas Barnes said...

For those of us on the left side of the Atlantic, what's Littlewoods?

My initial reaction was "nice work if you can get it." The lucky bastards actually got paid to sit in a pub and people watch. Presumably, they had a small expense account for beer, so the landlords wouldn't kick them out for not buying anything.