Friday, 30 December 2016

The 1950’s pub (part three)

It’s been rather a while since the first two parts of this series. In case you’ve forgotten, we’ve already looked at the types of bar in a pub and the drinks sold in them. Now it’s time to look at the different types of pub.

The author identifies three main types of pub, though I’m not sure I can really see a clear distinction.

pub types
Speaking generally there are three London pub types all with their particular colours—colour is very important in pubs. First, the alehouse type which follows the functional tradition in its use of solid carpentry, scrubbed wood tables and bar-top, and "grained oak" or "teak" paint. A particularly satisfying sort of pub, this type has an immensely long history, stemming from the middle ages, when any wayside house opening its doors for the sale of liquor would automatically invite the passer-by into the kitchen. It is in fact the kitchen vernacular. Many London pubs and public bars are of this type, or of the type of its younger and slicker town cousin the City Tavern. ”
"London Night & Day" edited by Sam Lambert.

I can remember pubs with a “grained oak” paint job. I always thought it looked a bit odd and very 19th century. Basically it’s a way of painting wood grain onto a surface. The idea being to make any old wood look a more expensive, darker hardwood. It’s generally pretty unconvincing. I think the Bun House in Bromley by Bow might have had it.

I’ve had to blank out a word in the next section. Which is an indication of how sensibilities have changed over 60 years. I doubt anyone batted an eyelid at the word’s use in this context back in the 1950’s.

“In the city tavern, wines and spirits and bottled beers tend to take precedence over beer-in-cask, though there tend to be even more casks (chocolate or n***** brown now) which will be for port or sherry, rather than beer. The third type is the GIN palace, be-mirrored, be-lettered, be-plushed (walls and bar mahogany, either the real wood or paint-grained), the great Victorian contribution to the architecture of drink and as a building type, one of England's most prized possessions. ”
"London Night & Day" edited by Sam Lambert.

It just sounds like a slightly more upmarket version of the first type. Bottled beer as a sign of class in something I’ve come across more often in the 1950’s. The posher rooms in a pub also tended to sell a greater proportion of bottled beer.

I think we all understand what is meant by a gin palace. Those magnificent late Victorian and Edwardian gems of etched glass, mahogany and tiles. I was in a great example a few weeks ago: the Princess Louise in Holborn. Where the interior has recently been fully restored, complete with partitioning and snob screens. Well worth a visit if you’re in London and want to see what pubs were like 100 years ago.

Sadly, many brewers were less understanding than Sam Smiths, owners of the Princess Louise. Many magnificent pubs were horribly mutilated by philistine owners.

“Unfortunately the brewers, who have lost touch with their best traditions, are trying to break up gin palace interiors in the mistaken notion that they represent a vulgar phase in the history of drinking. To kill them, they are putting in jazz wallpapers, chromium bars, and graining that gives the effect of pickled or even of grey-wood panelling, a beastly development of genteelism, which tends to give the pub the semblance of a night-club or road-house, two very inferior institutions. Worse still, in the cause of "supervision" the licensing magistrates are helping on the bad work by demanding that the succession of intimate little bars, which are the pride and pearl of the English pub should be gutted in favour of one large bar. Result—loss of the cosiness and surprise that used to make a pub the favourite meeting place of friends. If you are one of those people who resent such atrocities and are not afraid to say so, you can help in the fight against the genteelising of pubs by speaking out boldly about the decorations to your neighbour over a pint of wallop. If your temperament is more retiring, just do it by choosing to drink in the un-tarted up ones. We aren't suggesting that the pubs we list are all period pieces; but they are some of the best that remain and all still have something of the real pub character.”
"London Night & Day" edited by Sam Lambert.

The author clearly isn’t keen on tarted up pubs. And with good reason. Expensive, attractive interiors were ripped out and replaced with cheap tat that started falling apart after a couple of years and needed a further refurbishment, usually equally shoddy.

Thank Stalin this is no longer true:

“Tourists should bear in mind the anomalies of the system of licensing hours, but it is safe to assume that pubs in and near the West End are open from 11.30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and from 5.30 until 11 p.m., and that others open half an hour later and close at 2.30 and 10.30. Hours on Sunday are shorter.”
"London Night & Day" edited by Sam Lambert.

Throwing away the ridiculous restrictions on opening hours introduced during WW I was the best development in UK pubs since, er, WW I.


BryanB said...

"Thank Stalin this is no longer true"

Indeed. The idiots at Fuller's Pubco destroyed the surviving three-room layout of the pub across the road from me, which was favoured by locals, turning it into a giant drinking barn that's now almost empty during the 13 days a fortnight when there's not a kickball game on, and requires police supervision when it's not.

That was 10 years ago, I'm amazed the place is still open. At least now we could have applied for an ACV.

Martyn Cornell said...

My dad was taught how to do graining on wood by his father, a painter and decorator in the 1920s and 1930s. Dark varnish is used, rather than paint, laid over paler varnish.