The Falcon, Clapham Junction, built in 1887
All writing about the visual arts, be they paintings, architecture or the decorative arts, needs to be visual. With lush photos, this book beautifully memorialised and celebrated the various styles of pub building, from rich and gaudy to sleek and modern. My particular favourite was The Salisbury in London, a 1890s pub-hotel that had every known architectural element thrown onto the façade – Flemish gables, mullioned windows, wide arches on the ground floor and red and yellow brick work. What a treat.
Turk's Head, Middlesex,
an Edwardian pub
What the authors brought to public attention was that the number of pubs has halved since their late C19th glory days, when there were some 100,000. Alas just 250 have retained all their original Victorian architecture, furniture and decorative elements. And worse still, English Heritage has listed only 20-30 pubs for protection in the last decade. Since World War Two ended, period fittings have been ripped out of the traditional pub by big breweries who wanted up-market bars, with utterly impersonal interiors. The old colourful tiles, painted glass, timber panels and gilded woodwork were modernised! In a section that “England England” readers will admire, the authors noted that genuine features were discarded, only to have mock heritage reintroduced a few years later.
All readers interested in architectural and literary history will acknowledge that this is no mere drinking issue, since pubs have been woven into the fabric of some of Britain’s most loved novels – think of Dickens’ pubs. But I cannot help but wonder if today’s drinkers and socialisers care that under 4% have interiors of any historic value that are still intact.
The Princess Louise, Holborn, built in 1872
As a devoted pub patron but by no means a scholar of pub architecture, I loved the new material that I had never read before e.g that playing billiards in a licensed house required a separate licence for each table in 1845. Were billiard players a potentially dangerous lot? Then there was other material that I instinctively knew but was pleased to have confirmed e.g that many pubs had a club room, usually situated on the first floor. The pub functioned as the social centre of a community, before WW1. Finally there were familiar paintings, drawing and literary quotes that I was very familiar with e.g Pepys and Hogarth.
Licensed to Sell – The History and Heritage of the Public House by Geoff Brandwood, Andrew Davison and Michael Slaughter. It was published by English Heritage in 2011. Many thanks to Inbooks of Brookvale NSW for the copy.
It would be fascinating to follow this book up with The English Alehouse: A Social History 1200-1830 by Peter Clark. They do not cover the same eras, but drinking is drinking. And for blog readers, a swift one... focuses largely on breweries, pubs, clubs and festivals of Yorkshire. Tired of London, Tired of Life is also excellent. He recommends at the Half Moon Herne Hill, built in 1896 and designed by architect J. W. Brooker. This beautiful Grade II listed pub still has its attractive interior intact.