20th Century Pub – by Jessica Boak and Ray Bailey

Pubs have always been here – part of the rural and urban landscapes free from the influence of government. Pillars of community where the gentry share banter with laity. Ancient, family-run and eternal.

Well prepare to get shaken from that very English reverie.

Within the first couple of pages, I was drawn in wholesale by speculation that the pub being somewhere where people of all backgrounds rub together might come from folk memories of the Blitz. This has never occurred to me and it’s a proposal I’ve never read before. From that provocation, the text had my full attention.

Similarly, I had no idea that swimming pools, 24 hour restaurants, squash courts or standard Government beer were a part of our pub evolution. Pubs have been attributed with vectoring diseases and enforcing class division. It shows how rose-tinted my own preconceptions are.

People’s experiences of their local in recent times are very much dependent on where they live and its general affluence. Estate pubs in particular – once a sign of a brighter future – have been given a respectful autopsy in these pages.

“it was a rejection of the sterile and the modern that also took working-class culture and made it the subject of middle class intellectualising. The CAMRA pub had come into being.”

Even recent history can seem like a different country: I learn that in the 1990s, the boom in paint by numbers Irish theme pubs was such that supplies of Irish tat to festoon all over the walls dried up and led to an industry of counterfeit tat!

So too is the pub pivotal in the changing roles of men and women. Regrettably, it could be argued that men getting disconnected from traditional backstreet boozers in new town planning may have helped create a more equitable home environment between the sexes. But that’s beyond the scope of this book. It is, however, an example of how deeply entrenched the pub is within British culture and how capricious the upheavals in its wake.

I was stunned to find that columnists and lobbyists argued over whether moderate drinking was beneficial or detrimental to health in 1900 – I think of the column inches given over to this very topic in the Times and Guardian of 2017!

This trawl through the past century is a voyage through society. The punters have different customs, the pub culture seems alien. It’s only as the trajectory reaches my own time line that the pub experience I recognise hoves into familiarity. The only permanence is change.

It charts a century in which communities and government have conspired to regulate pubs, manage them, standardise them, close them down in droves and now to save them.

This book will give you so much insight into the social role of the pub over the last hundred years that anybody approaching you as you stand at the bar for a chat will regret they ever did! You’ll even be able to quote them the year that the number of pubs reached their all-time peak.

Looking ahead, there’s also a positive look to the future of our public houses that doesn’t get aired much in print.

“George Eliot was fretting about the loss of ‘the great roadside inns’ in 1886; Hilaire Belloc declared the end nigh in 1912; and Christopher Hutt drew a sheet over the corpse in 1973.”

20th Century Pub and their previous book Brew Britannia! complement each other and are essential for understanding British culture into which the role of pubs is deeply sunk. If you want to better understand this country, buy this book.

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