The English Public House As It Is, a book by social observer Ernest Selley, was published in 1927. Re-reading it in search of a reference, we spotted a passage that hadn’t previously grabbed our attention.

In it, Selley reports on his visit to The Fellowship Inn, Bellingham, South London (pictured above when we visited in August), where he met someone who was unimpressed with the new style of ‘improved public house’:

Evidently this man is a member of what I once heard described as ‘The Flea and Sawdust School’; one of the type which prefers the stuffy ‘coziness’ of the dirty, ill-ventilated taproom to any of the ‘new fangled’ ideas.

Some ancestor of The Pub Curmudgeon, perhaps? (That’s not us having a go: we suspect he’ll quite like the comparison.)

It’s interesting to us that this lobby, which we associate with a certain wing within CAMRA today, was sufficiently well-developed by the mid-1920s for Selley to say he had ‘met several of these critics’, and for it to deserve a nickname. It was clearly, as they say, ‘a thing’.

The Fellowship Inn when it was new.
The Fellowship Inn in c.1920s. SOURCE: Inside Housing.

Also of note, in the section that immediately follows, is an account of early beer snobbery: Selley records a meeting with a bloke who won’t drink at the local improved pub because ‘the beer is rotten’. Selley says he tried it and found it anything but ‘rotten’. In his view the man was prejudiced because he resented the posher, more expensive pub, even though Selley was sure he would have enjoyed the very same beer served at the more down-to-earth ‘Pig and Whistle’. We can’t say for sure what was really going on — Selley was prejudiced too in his own way, in favour of improved pubs — but this kind of debate about value, quality, and the qualities of a ‘proper pub’ is certainly still going on 90 years later.

3 Comments

  1. Haha, I immediately drew the connection on seeing the headline before reading the rest of the post ????
    The thing is, though, that the drinking public never took the “improved” pubs to their heart. In my blogpost on the subject (inspired by yourselves), I quoted from John Moore in Portrait of Elmbury:
    “…the majority of the population, it seems, likes the little pubs also, and people from the cities drive twenty miles on Sunday morning to crowd us out of our local because they hate the big roadhouses too. A pub, after all, is not just a place for convenient drinking; if it were these modern palaces with their ceaseless fountains of beer would serve the purpose very well. But a pub is primarily a meeting-place for friends; where friends as well as drinking may talk, argue, play game, or just sit and think according to their mood.”

  2. Ah, well, we’ve got quite a bit more to say about that as part of the Big Project. Short version: they weren’t as unpopular as their critics liked to suggest, but they weren’t perfect either.

  3. I think tradition and modernity go in waves. The 60s to the 70s, represented a big switch from modernity to tradition, coinciding of course with the rise of CAMRA.
    We’re currently very much in a modernity phase, but things will turn around in the fullness of time.

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