Saturday, 2 July 2011

Vault, Tap Room and Lounge

Think I'd forgotten about Bolton and its pubs? No way. Just got a little distracted by Irish Ale.
We're continuing with an entertainingly earnest description of the different rooms in a pub. Youngsters might find this as exotic as the researchers themselves. The biggest physical change in pubs since I've been drinking - and quite possibly the biggest in centuries - is knocking through all the rooms into one. I'm old enough to remember most pubs still being multi-room. Being a cheapskate, I almost always drank in the public bar. Why throw money away just to have a carpet on the floor? That was my thinking.

"Nomenclature of pub rooms varies. Colloquially the lounge or parlour is often spoken of as "the best room", and sometimes "the music room". A slang term for vault, occasionally used, is the "sawdust parlour", a reference that is more comprehensible when it is remembered that at one time the whole vault floor was strewn with sawdust or sand, a custom that no longer prevails here, but has been observed in some small country pubs in the south.

When we come to the "official" names written up on the doors of windows of the room we find the taproom sometimes called the News Room (cf. eighteenth century use of pubs for newspaper reading), and the best room called the commercial room. In other pubs it is named the Bar Parlour. A wide variation from normal nomenclature is shown in the following report:

. . . the landlord took me round to see the lounge proudly and said "This is what they call the Concert Room".
. . . The vault is labelled Saloon and another room Smoke Room. I ask if there is no vault here? The landlord, age 40, well built, pale but healthy looking, in a good suit and gold watch chain, says "This is a real new style pub. Well, this is the vault. It's called the Saloon. That's the thing in the newest. You don't properly have a vault in the town. Vault's outside the centre. That's the way things are, more highclass. He does not seem snobbish about this, in fact rather deprecating. He adds it is also a saloon because it has seats and tables
round it.

The class hierarchy of the various rooms—which we must now examine—is well illustrated by this, the landlord thinking that the name belonging to a higher class of room can make the vault "more highclass". Also the town centre pubs are more respectable. "You don't properly have a vault in the town" (this is in fact untrue).

In three or four of the big central pubs that have been rebuilt or redecorated the south of England nomenclature of Public and Saloon bars has been adopted. (In one of them castor oil plants are found in the saloon, as a distinct mark of "class"). Some other town centre vaults are called Saloon Bar. But normally, throughout all classes of pub the vault remains the vault. The use of the name Commercial and News Room is mostly confined to the middling-sized pubs, and in large ones the best rooms are invariably Lounges."
"The Pub and the People" by Mass Observation, 1943 (reprinted 1987), pages 90 - 91.

The use of Saloon Bar to descibe a public bar certainly is confusing. For me a Saloon Bar is the same as a lounge. Vaults I would recognice as a name for the public bar, though in the places I did most of my drinking - Nottinghamshire, Leeds and London - it wasn't used. Then again, Tap Room, for me, means public bar. That's how the phrase was used in Leeds. All very confusing, isn't it?

But let's continue.

"The following is a complete list of all the written usages for pub rooms that we have observed:

Vault — Vault, Public Bar, Saloon Bar.
Tap Room — News Room, Commercial Room.
Best Room — Music Room, Concert Room, Lounge, Parlour, Saloon, Commercial Room, Snug.

The original of the term "vault" is obscure. The New English Dictionary which gives considerable space to unusual and archaic usages of the word, such as an obscure seventeenth century writer who puts it in a context where it means an outside lavatory, simply fails to mention its current pub usage; considering it is a term in the daily vocabulary of millions in the North it is an indication of the ignorance of the pub in non-pub-going circles. Certainly the term must have originally been connected with its usage for the cellar. Wine bars in the south, where the term vault is not in use for the public bar, are often called wine vaults. But we have not been able to find any direct evidence of how its present pub usage came about. In this connection there is an interesting Worktown story that under the vault of the Man and Scythe, oldest pub, is a secret passage running to the Parish Church (200 yards). Now bricked up, it serves as a myth-umbilical between church and pub. That the church was once Publican Number One is beyond question. It is certain, therefore, that the pub has directly acquired religious associations. The whole set-up of the vault, the bar severing the landlord from the ordinary folk, the arrangements of bottles on the shelves, the often ornate windows, the beer-engine handles (generally three or four) sticking up like tapered candles, the shortly-to-be-described rituals of toasting, rounds, glass-swiggling—have much in common with forms of religious rite and invocation. The intricate build-up of pub rooms around the exclusive landlord sections is faintly reminiscent of the Catholic Church. And in each you come to the dividing-line between minister and ministered-to for alcoholic liquor.

The function of these different types of rooms cannot be understood until we have considered the types and habits of the drinkers that frequent them. Bearing this in mind we will make the following summing up:

VAULT and TAPROOM, tabu to women, patronized only by working class drinkers, form one group of rooms, in contradistinction to the

BEST ROOMS (lounge, parlour, etc.) where beer costs a penny a pint more, women are permitted.

THE VAULT is distinguished by the presence of THE BAR COUNTER.

THE TAPROOM, which has the same class of custom, is more of a club and games room.

Amongst best rooms the term LOUNGE is usually applied to the best rooms of the bigger pubs, PARLOUR to those of smaller ones. From now on, the former term will be used to cover all best rooms."
"The Pub and the People" by Mass Observation, 1943 (reprinted 1987), pages 92 - 94.

Now wasn't that fascinating? It comes as no surprise to me that the compilers of the New English Dictionary didn't bother to record northern working class vocabulary. They were probably oblivious to its existence and, even if they had noticed it, wouldn't have included it. I'd be interested in learning the etymology of the word. Thanks to class bias, it may prove difficult to uncover.

I'd never thought to draw parallels between the rituals of pubs and those of the catholic church. On reflection, it seems pretty obvious. But isn't everything once it's been explained? Handpumps like church candles. Love that image.

Once again, the book sheds its supposed cloak of anonymity by naming the oldest pub in town, the Man and Scythe. (Actually it's called Ye Olde Man and Scythe.) Which makes it a piece of piss to identify the town as Bolton. The pub still exists. I wonder when they last brewed their own beer? Probably quite a while ago. Halliwell's (whose name appears on the pub) were bought by Magee Marshall in 1910.

It's funny how you get odd combinations of events. The vault being men-only for example. I remember once seeing a "men only" sign on the door of a public bar. It was in Halifax in 1979. By then it was an anachronism, as equality legislation had made men-only rooms illegal several years before. Removing the possibility of keeping the public bar men only must have made knocking pubs through into a single room easier to implement. One less reason for keeping separate rooms.

Lots more to come from this particular pit of material. It won't be mined out for years yet.

1 comment:

Matt said...

Doesn't look like it's changed much in the last seventy years: