Friday, 5 October 2012

A pub of two sides

Martyn Cornell recently made an interesting post on his Zythophile blog entitled Shades, dives and other varieties of British bar about the way over the years different sections of pubs have been put to different uses and attracted different social groups. One significant change that has taken place during my drinking career is the large-scale elimination of the division between public and saloon or lounge bars. There was a time when many would sneer at “one-bar pubs” that had been “knocked through”, but now it is very much the rule rather than the exception.

Having said that, there are still a number of pubs around here that retain the division and where it continues to work pretty much as intended. The risk is, of course, if you remove the distinction the traditional vault customers end up colonising the lounge. Very often, nowadays, that distinction between types of customers exists between pubs, rather than within pubs.

Until the early 1970s, when it was abolished by the Heath government, there was official price control of public bar prices, which led to a price differential between bar and lounge sides, although I suspect that owed as much to custom and practice as to legislation *. In many pubs, this differential persisted for many years afterwards, although as far as I know it has entirely disappeared now. Having said that, in the comments to the post I linked to above, one person mentions it still applies in the Fox & Goose in Kingswinford near Dudley. Does anyone know of anywhere else? I would suggest other Banks’s pub in the West Midlands would be the most likely candidates. A little bit of investigation reveals that the Fox & Goose, like many other similar pubs, is now a Tesco Express.

Indeed, in my experience, the separation of public and lounge sides was probably strongest in the Midlands. In many of the characteristic inter-wars roadhouses and estate pubs, the prominent door in the centre would lead into the public bar, with a long bar counter facing you, and the lounge was accessed by a separate door at the side. In the 1980s, Banks’s built a number of new pubs in the Manchester area with entirely separate Midlands-style public bars that didn’t really suit the local trade, and which ended up being converted to one bar (and, in some cases like the Milestone in Burnage, demolished after a career of less than twenty years). This layout also applied on a smaller scale in the famous Ma Pardoe’s (Old Swan) home-brew pub in Netherton near Dudley.

On the other hand, many pubs in the North had a central bar and lobby with various rooms radiating off so, while one room had an obvious “vault” or “tap-room” character, it wasn’t as if there were two entirely separate zones. A common plan was to have a vault on one or other side of the central door, with a long bar counter, and other rooms accessed by going straight ahead and served by a hatch to one side of the bar. This can still be seen in the Plough in Gorton and also in the Waterloo in Stockport, although in the latter, strangely, the roles of the two areas have been reversed.

* I’m too young to remember this, but surely if public bar prices were controlled, but you could get out of the restriction by turning all your pub into a lounge bar, everyone would have been doing it, and it would have been a gaping hole in the legislation. Or was it that scrapping the restriction gave pub owners a new incentive to knock them through?


  1. When I was at uni, the uni "bar" and the uni "pub" were part of the same building and were served by different counters of the same bar area - eg you could walk between them with your pint.

    The "pub" side was 20p a pint cheaper than the "bar" side, yet both counters were used equally by the students.

  2. Class division in society is greater now than it has been since the Second World War. The move towards a classless society that went through the 50's, 60's and 70's started to end in the 80's with the selloff of council houses removing the notion of a socially housed respectable working class and reserving social housing for those in need (with problems).

    Far from all being middle class, the median national income is a paltry 21k. We have a nation of upper, middle, indebted working class that thinks its middle class through cheap credit rather than actual wealth and a parodied lower class (parodied by privately educated posh blokes dressing up as council estate mums that sell their kids for a west life CD).

    Private housing does not lead to integration. These classes live as far from each other as possible so the most likely future model of public houses is for a pub to appeal to a distinct social class throughout with price being used to discourage the proletariat from getting the bus to the posh area for a pint. Fear that the lower classes are violent and vulgar is enough to keep the posh people from trying the cheaper beer on the other side of town. If that isn’t enough maybe the fear of dirt and disease can be resurrected.

    I believe there is scope for a separate room to house CAMRA members. These peculiar sorts like to turn up in pubs they otherwise never go in, act like they own the place and disregard the regulars. It’s best that pubs have at least one separate room to house these sorts for their meetings and try to keep them away from the regulars.

  3. Really, Cooking Lager, your repetitive stereotyping of CAMRA members isn't funny any more - not after all these years anyway. As humour would be the only reason to excuse your comments, I can only conclude you are deliberately aiming to cause offense.

    Curmudgeon: the pub arrangement you describe with a hatch is still to be seen in quite a few Merseyside pubs; a good example is the Volunteer in Waterloo.

  4. twas never intended to be funny, just a reaction to deep seated trauma originating in the fact that I was once unfortunate enough to have a drink in a southport pub.


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