Thursday 18 August 2016

Tell the kids that, and they’ll never believe you

Back in January 2010, to welcome the new decade, I produced a list for my Opening Times column of features of the drinking scene of 1980 that were very different from today. This recently came up in conversation on Twitter, and Tandleman gave me a whole lot more to add:
  • Cask beer was almost universal even in rough end pubs
  • Most pubs would offer free snacks on the bar on a Sunday
  • When a certain pub was suggested, someone always said “Whose ale is it?” and someone always objected on that basis
  • In addition to mixing draught and bottled, draught was often mixed
  • Bottled versions of beer were common - Brown ale, pale ale etc.
  • Every pub sold a nip bottle of strong ale, barley wine or both
  • Afternoon stay behinds or lock-ins were common in cities at least, but you had to be “known”
  • Many pubs had a bar/snug/taproom and a lounge/best room in which different prices applied
  • There was always a price list
  • Walking around a number of adjacent pubs was a common pursuit
  • Pubs were astonishingly busy most of the time
  • There was always an eagle eyed landlord watching out
  • Licensing police were common visitors
The practice of walking around a number of pubs is certainly something, once commonplace, that has largely died out. Perhaps that explains the high average age of the typical attendees on CAMRA Staggers.

Maybe pubs weren’t astonishingly busy most of the time, but being unable to find a seat was far more common, and they were often busy at times when they’re now closed.

The photo is of an electric diaphragm metered beer pump - something the kids probably wouldn’t believe ever existed.


  1. Another slant on your third bullet point in the North East.

    There would always be someone in the group who would object to the pub on the grounds that it didn't sell Newcastle Brown.

  2. Happy days. Not like the ghastly dead places we see now where you can't even smoke. Wonder why mid week many pubs are very very quiet !!!

  3. 1980 was the year I moved from Wrexham to Bristol. In Wrexham (a brewery town in those days) there was very little cask ale available, maybe half a dozen pubs. In Bristol, there was much more but it was virtually all Courage. My mates and I used to seek out free houses or Wadworth's pubs. I agree about the bottled beers but until relatively recently (couple of years) you could still get bottles of Courage Light Ale which was used to make a light split. Haven't seen the barley wine for years though. Yes, there was always a price list but I'm not sure about the eagle-eyed landlord. Many pubs had seriously demented old women behind the bar which is why my mate Paul and I managed to get served our first pub pints when we were 15 and should never have been served. For the record, they were pints of mild (cheapest) and cost 30p each. Happy days.

    1. Wrexham hasn't changed that much then.

  4. People wandered pub to pub, staying long hours, all days and nights of the week, a happy bunch, especially the smokers who livened the place up and whose presence, once tolerated, resulted in tolerance of everything else, including controversial ideas and speech, which forced conformity to non/anti-smoking has of course wiped out and turned into a PC culture of bullsh*t for which now the pubs sit empty, those that haven't closed down - and all of them deserve every bankruptcy that occurs for their refusal to stand up for their most loyal customers of all.

  5. Re. the eagle eyed landlord; there doesn't seem to be the "strong landlord" type around anymore, who was notorious in the area and could keep trouble out of the pub. Where have these gone? Today's pub owners are more your young entrepreneur / business types.

  6. Lucretius and anon have the right of it. The last few times I've been in UK, I haven't even bothered to go to a pub. Why the hell should I pay inflated prices for a beer, only to be told that I have to stand outside if I want a smoke? Sod that. I used to be a real regular, too. I loved the whole experience, the bonhomie that pubs encapsulated.

    The last couple of times I went to pubs in UK since the smoking ban (some years ago now), they had all the ambience of a doctor's waiting room. Gone was the haze of smoke, the sound of laughter and conversation and the generally cheerful hubbub which characterised a good pub. My old locals were a shadow of their former selves a year or so after the ban, and I hear one has now closed and the other has become a foody place. They used to be heaving.

    How to destroy a national, traditional social institution with a single blow. What a bloody shame.

  7. I have not had that many lock ins aside from my local in the late eighties,but my tow notable lock ins were in pubs i have visited for the first time and both were afternoon lock ins,i had a very good lock in with mates in the Amersham Arms in New Cross SE London on a Sunday afternoon and my other one was in a country pub just outside Derby on a midweek afternoon.

    I loved the photo of the diaphragm electric pump which were so common round our area in the Erewash Valley,Ilkeston,Stapleford,Long Eaton,of note the Shippos houses had the same type as on the photo but the Home Ales tied house had the same type pump but it stood upright.

    1. I worked in a Home Ales pub in Leicester in the 80's, the diaphragm was hidden in the cellar, had to explain to lots of customers over the years that just because we didn't have hand pumps we could still sell real ale

    2. I did all Home Ales tied houses in Leicester in the mid 80s,which one was you running,
      i did the Beaumont Leys on Beaumont Leys lane,Gipsy Lane Tavern and the Royal Leicesters in Rushy Mead and the Scarlett Pimpernel.

  8. Lock ins these days are after midnight when the ash trays appear. For a couple of hours it's almost like being back before 2007


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