Saturday, 11 June 2016

The workers' beer

H/t to Boak and Bailey for drawing my attention to this highly evocative set of pictures of workers in the Suffolk town of Leiston enjoying a drink in the Engineer’s Arms in 1966. The photos are described as being set at the time of the construction of the Sizewell A nuclear power station on the nearby coast, but I suspect the workers are from the premises of Richard Garrett & Sons directly opposite, which is obviously where the name comes from.

The pub itself is still going strong (albeit not opening weekday lunchtimes), and the stained glass public bar window can be seen on the StreetView image. Part of the works is now the Long Shop Museum, which looks like the kind of place that would really fascinate me.

Work-related drinking, whether in the lunch break, or after knocking-off time, was once a staple of the pub trade, and a far better way of bonding with colleagues than any contrived team-building exercise. See this recent comment by Alan Winton. Now, of course, it is much diminished, due to the decline of large factories, the general anti-alcohol climate, and employers becoming increasingly intolerant of any drinking whatsoever by their employees.

The absence of lager, the number of halves being drunk, the unmarked handpumps and the universality of fags and ashtrays are all very noticeable. The clientele is also exclusively male, the only women present being behind the bar.

However, that simply reflects the make-up of the industrial workforce rather than any kind of discrimination in the pub. Even today, the manual workers in such heavy industry as we have left will be overwhelmingly male. A few years ago I worked for a spell as an accountant at a now-closed paper mill, providing maternity leave cover. The mill ran continuously 24/7, with five rotating shifts. Every single one of the 50 or so shiftworkers was male, but nobody seems to get aggrieved about that.


  1. What a fantastic slice of social history. I particularly like the third one down: it would appear that Jason King found himself somewhat off piste and decided to rough it in the sticks.

  2. The absence of women would certainly explain Jason King's presence. One has to go somewhere when the Gloucester Bus Station Gents are closed, hasn't one?

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  4. I used to go to Leiston quite a bit when my parents had a caravan there (some distance from the coast) in the late '70s,and even in my teens I remember being a proper working town with some boisterous looking pubs by the standards of my village. The nearest Beer Guide pub to Leiston, at least recently, was the Guardian reader friendly Eel's Foot at Eastbridge, about as big a contrast with the pub shown here as possible to get.

  5. I think I shall buy a posh SLR camera and record the local spoons. Then in 50 years people can be nostalgic about it.

  6. yeah my impression was they look more like workers from Garretts or just local farm workers, the Vulcan Arms is much nearer Sizewell for anyone working there.

    The Eels Foot has only recently got in the guide, but alot of that area of Suffolk has become 2nd holiday home territory for people,especially well off Londoners (I do smile when people visit and say they never hear local accents),so a locals pubs like as it was in the 60s in the less fashionable parts (non guardian reading bits I guess) do struggle to stay open and the Engineers did shut for a period a few years back, and probably explains the unusual opening times.


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