Thursday, 2 June 2011

The 1930's pub

Yes, we're back in Bolton again. This time looking at the physical nature of the pub.

I'll be honest. I've never analysed pub architecture this way. Perhaps that's because the distinction between a fully-licensed pub and a beerhouse had become pretty irrelevant by the time I frequented pubs. As we saw the other day, by the 1970's there were only a couple of hundred beerhouses left. I can only remember drinking in one: The Roscoe in Leeds. I may well have drunk in others, but, only drinking beer at the time, I probably wouldn't have noticed.

The two types of pub gradually converged during the 20th century, as beerhouses were either closed or improved and given full licenses. WHich probably explains why the authors failed to find universal distinctions in the physical nature of the two types.

"A pub is a house. Certain exterior characteristics differentiate it from other houses. All pubs have displayed outside, painted on the wall or on a wooden sign, the name of the brewers to whom they belong. Most, but not all, also have the name of the pub itself similarly displayed. Many have on the windows either painted or engraved the name of the room within or the brewer's name. And many have fixed on either side of the main entrance rectangular tablets with the brewer's name on them. There is no specific pub architectural style. Though false pilasters, porticoes and other stucco neo-classical trimmings are common, many pubs do not have these, and are simply ordinary houses.

The following table is the result of an analysis of the frontages of 12 pubs, 6 of them beerhouses (A) and 3 each of large (B) and small (C) full licences:

Characteristic A B C Total
Sign with pub name 5 3 3 11
  "       "     brewer's name 6 3 3 12
  "       "     both 5 3 3 11
Tablets on door 2 1 2 5
Name of room on windows 6 1 1 8
Name of brewer on windows - - 1 1

Pub signs have never been universal in Worktown; tendency to general decline was recently counteracted by a special exhibition in London, signs by R.A.'s and speech by the Chairman of Whitbread's Ltd., who said:

"Expression in art must be within reach of the ordinary fellow. If this is so it will meet with an enthusiastic and ready response. Art for art's sake is a noble ideal but it must not be allowed to develop into a selfish thing which does not touch the hearts and emotions of the ordinary fellow"—(News Chronicle 7.4.38).

In Worktown the pub facade offers no art-appeal. The only feature common to all is the brewer's name. Tablets on the door generally denote a higher class of pub, and name of rooms on windows a beerhouse. More than half the Worktown pubs are beerhouses ; there are 19 beerhouses licensed to sell wines; and the rest are fully licensed. This may seem to correspond to the Inn-Tavern-Beerhouse trinity. In fact it does not. Though 35 of the pubs are called Inns, and 63 hotels, only 6 are listed in the directory as providing accommodation. A tour of 19 pubs, of all kinds, asking for accommodation, proved fruitless. The ancient function of the Inn as a place for people to stay at has died away. The ordinary Worktown pub, whatever its title, is not an Inn or Hotel.

All large pubs (i.e. with 5 or more rooms and/or seating accommodation of 150 or more) are full licences; but all full licences are not large pubs, and as far as size, architecture, and general appearance, some small full licences are indistinguishable from beerhouses. The beerhouse licensed to sell wines has a separate legal status, but this status is not reflected in any differentiation in the pub itself (beyond, of course, the fact that you can buy a glass of wine in it)."
"The Pub and the People" by Mass Observation, 1943 (reprinted 1987), pages 86 - 87.

The names of rooms on the windows signifies a beerhouse? That's an interesting claim. It was pretty common in the pubs I drank in during the 1970's. Common in all types of pubs, backstreet locals and gin palaces. Maybe Bolton was different.

Now there's a funny thing. All 12 pubs had the name of the brewer on a sign. But only 11 had the name of the pub. Shows where the priority lay: in identifying the brewer, not the name of the pub. I can remember coming across the opposite in Salford in the 1980's. I cam across a pub with no brewery name on the outside and no pump clips. I had to lean over the bar and peer at the bottles beer to work out that it was a Holt's pub.

One last quote before I finish:

"The licensing laws of 1869, already referred to, besides restricting the number of pubs, presumably resulted in their gradual improvement, since the consumption of drink went on increasing, which meant that a smaller number of landlords were doing better business.

From this date onwards all types of pubs were "institutionalized". Our knowledge of what the inside of pubs were like at this time must be gathered from contemporary fiction. Dickens' descriptions in Barnaby Rudge and other works give us a picture that is not very different in essentials from most present-day pubs. The greatest change must have been brought about by the introduction of the beer engine (on which historical data is obscure), which, besides tending to lower the quality of the beer, made it possible for the landlord to keep his barrels all in the cellar, away from the bar, and so serve a larger number of drinkers from a smaller space and with a smaller staff. "The Pub and the People" by Mass Observation, 1943 (reprinted 1987), pages 85 - 86."

I'm trying to work out why beer engines would have caused beer quality to get worse. Surely keeping the beer in a cool cellar rather than behind the bar would have had the opposite effect?

I've more, yes it's true, more about 1930's Bolton pubs to come.


Gary Gillman said...

Jospeh Bramah, a Yorkshire-born mechanic and engineer, invented the beer engine and took out a patent in the 1790's. He argued in the patent that the process would improve beer quality because temperatures in the cellar would not constantly change by ingress and egress through cellar doors to draw pints (i.e., in pots or larger vessels).

I can recall reading the odd comment from early in the 1800's that beer engines did not improve quality, but this was probably a natural conservatism which in time withered from the natural advantages of the system.

However, Michael Jackson once told me that beer drawn direct from cask, by thumb-taps, was best, provided it was "beautifully kept", a condition he clearly regarded as a rarity.

As for the researchers from Mass Observation, perhaps they had been told that long beer lines damaged quality, or were hard to clean (which they can be). Or maybe they had seen casks in country houses where the tap was unassisted by mechanics and assumed the "old way" was better.

I must confess after reading some of these extracts, there is a certain "anthropological" quality I find a little off-putting. It sometimes sounds like they are investigating the far side of the moon. I wonder if some of this stance was disingenuous, to uphold the official perspective of the project. Can the life of working people have been so remote from their experience prior to these investigations?


Martyn Cornell said...

Punch magazine in the middle of the 19th century is said to have railed against the rise of the handpump, but I have yet to find an actual cite. Perhaps the idea was that the pumps agitated the beer too much.

Doubtless the 19th century equivalent of the Campaign for Real Ale would have condemned serving beer any way except direct from the cask and damned all "artificial" means of filling a glass with beer except by gravity …

Andrew Elliott said...

When they introduced the beer engine, they were also introducing lines and sets of fittings that the beer had to flow through - another potential place for bacteria to get into. Maintaining clean and sanitary lines takes work and the right tools to get into those lines. I'm just curious how much effort was put into cleaning them. Additionally, I'm curious about the effects of forcing the air into the cask -- would it oxidize faster or introduce more potential for microbial infection from that aspect?

Gary Gillman said...

Ah but some feel the air matures the beer in a way no other process can - and I agree.

It's true that CAMRA's definition of real ale is a relative one, but albeit accidentally created (from a quality perspective), they picked the sweet spot...


Gary Gillman said...

Here is a Punch issue from the 1800's containing a poem which claims a beer engine "mars good beer".

Scroll down and in another poem on beer in another issue of Punch, you can see a line that states the writer wishes the barmaid was behind a barrel, not a beer engine, thus another swipe at beer engines in Punch.


Graham Wheeler said...

I doubt if Bramah's 1796 patent was ever used extensively in pubs. It was far too cumbersome and complicated and one would need a huge cellar to accommodate it.

The eight beverage cellar illustrated in his patent required sixteen static casks, plus water cisterns and flushing pipework, and eight ruddy great weights. Importantly there were no hand-pumps at the bar. The system operated by means of weight-loaded accumulators (An invention generally attributed to Armstrong 50 years later)- the barman simply turned on a tap to fill a tankard.

However, it is clear that hand pumps were at bars at about that time. Pantologia: a new cyclopaedia of 1813 mentions beer pumps without remark, giving the impression that they were almost universal in London.

This does not mean that Bramah did not make them; after all, Bramah was the father of hydraulics and the beer pump as we know it today is just a hydraulic cylinder worked backwards. However, he did not patent it, and steam engines, which needed similar cylinders, preceded Brahma's patent.

So when historians say that Bramah invented the beer pump, they are probably wrong.

One of the problems with beer pumps in the early eighteen hundreds would have been keeping the pipework clean. They did not have the sterilising chemicals that we have available today. Infection would have lowered the quality of the beer. Indeed, there were enough bone-idle publicans in the 1970s whos beer tasted like ditch water because they did not perform proper cellar hygene. I dread to think what it must have been like 200 years earlier.

Of course, they did not have the metallurgy of today; rusty, pitted, cast-iron cylinders must have imparted a unique flavour.

Andrew Elliott said...

Gary -- I heartily agree about the air maturing the cask to a wonderful complexity, provided it's not "over the hill." I can't say I've had cask in Britain, but my first pint of the local micro on cask many years ago was one of my most memorable experiences. That said, I have had the same beer from the same bar where it had been sitting a bit too long and it was less than stellar (although drinkable).

Gary Gillman said...

Perhaps the version of the beer engine which commercially took off was not as originally patented but so many 1800's sources attribute the beer engine to Jospeh Bramah that it seems to me he must have had a lot to do with its final iteration.