London Pubology, you may have noticed, has hardly been awash with content recently, not that I’ve ever managed more than a post every few months, but particularly in recent years. This is due to nothing more than my own inability to commit fingers to the keyboard (or whatever the modern equivalent of “pen to paper” might be). Fortunately, many others continue to write eloquently, both on blogs (I particularly commend Boak and Bailey), and in books (a recent favourite has been Adrian Tierney-Jones’s CAMRA’s Great British Pubs).
I had been thinking for some time that I might want to talk about beer books on here (specifically, those with a focus on London), but was unsure what to kick off with. I clearly missed the seasonal present shopping deadline for raving about Tierney-Jones’s book, though I still intend to get round to it, and maybe if you need present ideas for Mother’s Day you could go worse than either it or the book I’m about to mention.
So it was the other week that I found myself browsing at the excellent Big Green Bookshop in Wood Green, and came across a beautiful reissue of The Local by Maurice Gorham with illustrations by Edward Ardizzone. Both the book itself and its subject immediately appealed to me, and I am confident that they will appeal to the London Pubology reader as well.
This is a book with which I was not hitherto familiar, but it is entirely delightful. It is a slim volume brought to life not only by the colourful sketches but by the droll commentary on the many features of pre-war pubs in London. It is in fact, not unlike a historical London Pubology avant la lettre, for it was published originally back in 1939. There are chapters on West End pubs, games in pubs, pub eating, al fresco drinking, and other such topics.
There are of course some features of the pubs of this period which are no longer familiar to modern drinkers. For example, there is plenty of focus on the difference between public and saloon bars, the names (and sometimes even the physical separation) of which may survive in modern pubs, but rarely the social divide that is so deftly illustrated. Many of the drinks too are quite different. This is an era when asking for a “pint of ale” would get you a pint of mild (except in the saloon bar, where bitter was the standard drink, and lager in all cases was a minority interest), and there are plenty of strange beer combinations explained patiently in the glossary, e.g. “MOTHER-IN-LAW. A facetious name for stout-and-bitter.”
However, for the most part, the modern pub-goer will find plenty that is familiar. The carping about young people in pubs hasn’t much changed, nor the ire reserved for breweries taking over and modernising pub interiors and thereby jettisoning all the atmosphere and charm (even if now it’s more likely to be the faceless PubCos that are blamed).
It is most pleasing, though, when Gorham makes reference to a pub which still exists, though there are plenty too which do not. One can imagine that the charms of, say, The Star Tavern (Belgravia SW1) — discussed in the chapter on mews pubs — haven’t much changed in 75 years. Likewise, I would hope that readers in another 75 will still be able to find much to delight them in this slender volume.
The Local, illustrations Edward Ardizzone text Maurice Gorham.
First published 1939, new edition published 2010.
Published by Little Toller Books (an imprint of the Dovecote Press).
Hardcover. 96pp. ISBN 978-0-9562545-9-7.