Tuesday, 27 December 2016

A landlord’s week in the 1950’s (part one)

There’s so much great material in in “Beer in Britain”. I particularly like the details of day-to-day life in a pub.

The article by a publican relating his daily activities is of particular interest. I’m sure some of it would be much the same today. Though, of course, little details like afternoon closing mostly no longer apply.

Oddly, Sunday, the day with the shortest opening hours, was the landlord’s busiest. First the afternoon session:

“Sunday is my busiest day. Up at 7.30. I let the two cleaners in, have a pot of tea, and set about cleaning the beer pumps. Cellar-work is a job I never delegate. I clean all the pumps every Sunday morning; and one pump each day during the lunch-hour. It is not enough that justice should be done to the beer: it should be seen to be done.

Next, I prepare tills, with plenty of shillings in each. In these days of shilling-in-the-slot meters, a lack of shillings can lead to a lack of customers. I light the fires, take a bath, change into a good suit — no shirt-sleeves in the bar for me — and have breakfast. Then I take my two children along to cheer our Sunday league football team.

Back home, for a last-minute check-up. The barmaids have laid out little dishes of biscuits and salted pea-nuts along the counters. The glasses are polished; the whole place is clean. Open the doors at 12 o'clock, and for the next two hours we are all kept at full stretch.”
"Beer in Britain", 1960, page 115.

Chatting with Jeff Bell the other week, he told me that it’s best to have one person in control of a pub cellar. If multiple people are busy in one cellar they tend to undo each other’s work. Quite clever that, cleaning a pump during opening times so the punters could see it being done.

It’s hard to believe that not long ago men would wear suits on far more occasions – such as going to the pub – that they do nowadays. I blame the 1960’s for turning men into scruffs most of the time. Even when I started work in the late 1970’s, you were expected to wear a tie if you worked in an office.

I can remember the Sunday lunchtime sessions when I lived in the East End of London in 1979. We’d be leaning on the door at 11:50, along with a fair crowd of others. Once the pubs were open, it was a frantic rush to get your fill of beer in two scant hours before they shut again. Everywhere was always heaving. It’s just not the same now they can stay open ll afternoon. (Much better, really, if I’m honest.)

Now the evening session:

“The pub closed, I check and clear the tills while the barmaids clear up; hard-spile the beers, check up on all doors, windows and toilets, and sit down to dinner by half past three. Then watch "Brains Trust" on television, and maybe doze off in my armchair, but fully awake for Children's Hour.

I am down in the bars again, half an hour before opening, laying and lighting fires, arranging tills, and stacking the off-licence bar shelves with cigarettes. Open at seven, and for over an hour two of us sell cigarettes and bottled beers like automatons geared to top speed. Then, that fantastic rush-hour over, I relax to the tempo of a busy evening, deliberately spending most of my time serving in the saloon bar. There I enjoy arguments on sport, and reminiscences about the Navy, but keep no one waiting for service.”
"Beer in Britain", 1960, page 116.

I love the details of the TV programmes he watched on Sunday afternoon. Even when I was a kid, it was only at the weekend that there was any telly before 5 PM. Hard to imagine that now.

The landlord in question ran a modern estate pub. Which would have had a separate off-licence section. In the days before licensed supermarkets, pubs were responsible for a large proportion of off-sales. And on a Sunday evening, there would have been few other places to buy fags.

Next time it’s the other six days of the week.


Marquis said...

I have a vivid memory of arriving at the Lime Kiln pub at ten minuted to twelve one Sunday moening. On the stroke of noon we heard the bolts being withdrawn and the doors opened. Followed by cigarette smoke billowing out and the sight of a half full pub with people drinking half full glasses! You could always drink out of hours if you knew where to go.
And yes, we did dress up to go to the pub on a Sunday. Suits and jackets reserved for weddings, funerals and Sunday evenings at the pub.People seem to have lost their self respect and wear just anything these days.

Martyn Cornell said...

My maternal grandfather (born 1890, worked as a carpenter and joiner until he was 70, read the Daily Worker/Morning Star) always put his suit on for his dinner. Always. He couldn't understand why his grandchildren wore denim jeans all the time: to him, they were work clothes, to be taken off when you got home.