Monday, 18 April 2011

Air raids and closing time

The Blitz. It can't have been great for the pub business. No-one nips down the local for a quick when bombs are falling. What's a landlord supposed to do if he wants to keep his business going?

Pubs had much more to fear than just a direct hit. As you'll learn if you can be arsed to read the article I've thoughtfully transcribed for you.


The frequency of air raid warnings during the past few weeks—during one period of twenty-four hours the sirens were sounded eight times in the London area—has had a marked adverse effect on the trade of licensed houses. Whether or not licensed premises should continue to trade after the sirens have sounded or should close their doors has been the subject of much discussion in Trade circles. At the end of last month the following announcement appeared in certain sections of the Press : "The Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis has made an Order that all licensed houses must close immediately when the sirens sound, and customers must be requested To leave and to seek air raid shelters." The Brewers' Journal is in a position to state that no such Order was, in fact, made by the Commissioner of Police, nor, at the time of writing, was the making of any such Order in contemplation. We understand that the view of the Commissioner is that it must be left in the discretion of individual licensees to determine whether or not they shall close or keep their houses open.

We have taken a cross-section of opinion from  brewers, multiple licensees and individual licensees, and there is overwhelming support for the view that upon the licensee or manager of each individual licensed house must rest the responsibility whether to continue trading or to close the premises. A tour of the London area revealed the fact that, on 6th inst. about 90 per cent, of licensed premises remained open during the period of air raid warning. In some areas — Croydon, for example — we found the proportion was much lower. The type of licensed premises we found closed was the larger houses, where control of customers and staff in an emergency would obviously have been more difficult than in smaller houses. One big multiple firm of licensees expressed the opinion that, whilst they left it entirely in the discretion of their managers, their own view was that where possible the needs of the public not only for alcoholic refreshment but for food should continue to be met. In some houses we found trading confined to certain bars which occupied the most sheltered position, this system allowing for providing for the needs of the public with a minimum of staff during air raid warnings.

Brewers are looking ahead with the knowledge that trading conditions in the retail trade may become more difficult as the permitted hours during daylight decline. Even when licensed houses remain open after the sirens have sounded, large numbers of people will not venture out, but are nevertheless desirous of obtaining refreshment and meeting their friends on the "All clear" being sounded. Not infrequently, however, the period of permitted hours has ended before this eventuates. Accordingly, we throw out the suggestion that the authorities should be approached to permit of an extension of permitted hours in certain circumstances. Thus we suggest that:—

If and when a warning has been operative during any session of permitted hours, then the permitted hours for licensed premises in such an area shall be deemed to be extended by half an hour. The additional half-hour to apply whether or not an "All clear" signal has been sounded prior to the conclusion of the normal permitted hours for that session. It shall nevertheless be in the discretion of each licensee in the area as to whether or not he avails himself of such additional period of trading.

The requirements of the public, and especially of workers, vary from area to area ; accordingly, the above suggestion is set out merely as a skeleton on which to build an effective proposal likely to meet the case. Responsible members of the Trade with whom we have discussed the topic consider that, as the winter months approach, permitted hours should be extended in the daytime and curtailed at night — particularly on Sundays, when the midday trading period is short and may be eclipsed or largely rendered inoperative by air raid warnings. This suggestion demands consideration, but the case of night workers must be borne in mind. As we see it, an Order in Council, elastic in character, and leaving permitted hours in each area to be laid down by the Police Authorities, after ascertaining responsible local opinion (including that of the retail trade) would best meet the case. Of course, there would be a proviso that the trading hours laid down by the existing licensing laws should in no case be diminished.

As we write, the subject of air raid warning is receiving official attention, and it may be that a tendency will develop to give such warnings only when danger is immediate in the area ; or, alternatively, to have two forms of sirens, one for children and those not at work, and the other to embrace all and indicating particular danger in the neighbourhood. Meanwhile, the licensed Trade is especially concerned with the official statement that a serious attempt is to be made to brighten the black out by providing some form of street lighting. The licensed Trade is more affected than any other business by the black out, since licensed premises remain open for many hours at night after other retail premises are closed.

The past month has probably been fraught with more difficulties for brewers and licensees than they have ever experienced before. The interruption of the brewing and bottling processes, the delay in transport of beer and to workers coming to and from their homes owing to air raid warnings, and time lost during such warnings, have been superimposed upon the calling up of staff and workpeople—the latter affecting the retail as well as the wholesale trade. It can be stated that most licensed houses are understaffed to-day, and a word of praise is due to the splendid manner in which licensees and managers (not omitting their wives) have carried on. As was inevitable, certain breweries and numbers of licensed houses have been damaged in air raids, and many stories of courage, efficiency and endurance remain to be told.

The aggregate damage to property Throughout the country has been on a scale far less than was anticipated. Meanwhile, any damage to brewery premises, licensed houses or other properties owned by brewers should he notified to the appropriate authorities, bearing in mind that damage to the structure by disturbance of the foundations may not make its appearance until subsequently. Attention is also drawn to the fact that Section 24 of the Licensing (Consolidation) Act, 1910, Specifies that a Justices' licence may he removed elsewhere within the same licensing district if the Justices are assured that the premises" had been rendered unfit by fire, tempest or other unforeseen and unavoidable calamity." The new premises to which the business is removed must, in the opinion of the Justices, be "fit and convenient premises for the purpose." Where trading cannot be carried on in a licensed house owing to damage by enemy action, there is little doubt that, as a temporary expedient, the Justices would be likely to interpret the words "fit and convenient" liberally, and attach to them a meaning different from that usually obtaining in pre-war times.
"The Brewers' Journal 1940" pages 717 - 718 (Published September 1940.)

An order saying "all licensed houses must close immediately when the sirens sound" wouldn't have seemed that unreasonable to me. I suppose landlords might have had a slightly different view. Having your business randomly closed for no reason must have been pretty annoying. Especially if, by the time the all clear sounded, it was past closing time. As it was, the police had never issued any such order and it was up to the landlord whether he closed or not.

The date this article was published is very significant. September 1940. It's before the Blitz had really started. I can't imagine that a few months later London publicans would have just moved to a more sheltered room when the siren wailed. I'd have been down in the cellar.

I love the cheeky suggestion of brewers to let pubs stay open an extra half hour after an air raid warning. I'm pretty sure it never got any further than that: a cheeky suggestion. I can imagine, though, after a raid wanting a few whiskies to settle the nerves. Half an hour? I reckon I could easily get half a dozen doubles down in that time. That's assuming the pub had any whisky, of course.

Street lighting is a good one. We're so used to it. What would unlit streets be like and how keen would we be on going out? Especially in London, with all its cars, buses and trams. It can't have been very safe, even when the bombs weren't falling. I'd love to see figures on how pub takings differed in light summer nights from dark winter ones. And of the ratio of traffic deaths to bombing deaths.

There were many, many pubs damaged or destroyed by German bombing. There must be figures somewhere. Not sure where, but they must be somewhere. It would be interesting to see how many pubs moved to emergency premises, too. It wouldn't surprise me if some of the temperance-dominated licensing committees used was damage as a crafty way of reducing the number of pubs. The bastards.


Craig said...

Don't forget from the winter of 1940 to late summer 1945, Britian was on double summer time. So sunset in mid winter was nearly 18:00 (6:00 PM) and 22:00 (10:00 PM) in mid-summer.

Thomas Barnes said...

Without streetlights and with blackout shades on headlamps, vehicles had to crawl along, too. So, traffic deaths probably weren't as bad as you'd imagine.

Once the all-clear was sounded, pub-goers might have had to deal with rubble-blocked streets, streets blocked off while the fire brigade put out fires or conducted rescue operations, or even entire neighborhoods blocked off and evacuated due to unexploded bombs! Not exactly conducive to popping out for a pint.