Book Reviews: The Search for the Perfect Pub

The Search for the Perfect Pub by Paul Moody and Robin Turner
Figure 87. The Search for the Perfect Pub by Paul Moody and Robin Turner.

If there’s one point upon which I can immediately ease the potential reader’s mind about The Search for the Perfect Pub: Looking for The Moon Under Water, it’s that the authors Robin Turner and Paul Moody are not in search of a Wetherspoon’s. They do of course find some; whether or not you happen to believe that JD Wetherspoon’s deserve a place in any search for the ‘perfect pub’, Tim Martin’s ubiquitous chain (about whom I do still mean to do a post at some point) has at least tossed its hat in the ring for this particular competition. And while it may not in the end be their ideal, they do give Wetherspoon’s a fairly even-handed treatment. No, it’s the faceless corporatised chains that most draw their ire as, taking Orwell’s 1946 panegyric to his favourite pub The Moon Under Water as their starting point, they survey the state of the British pub at the start of the 21st century.

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Former Pubs

There are many posts to be written here about the former pubs of London, and in the fullness of time (which has already been very accommodating) I hope to write about the many uses to which they have been put, including posts about former breweries and their tied pubs, and maybe a few more about notable districts (I’ve already done a post touching on Soho). First though, I want to talk about how one may spot former public houses, and some reasons they came to be closed.

The Victoria (Charlton SE7), now closed
Figure 84. The Victoria (Charlton SE7), now closed.

In London, as in most large conurbations, we are constantly surrounded by reminders of the past. But perhaps more than many world cities, London has been built and rebuilt countless times with (until recently) a fairly cavalier regard to the physical presence of the past. Ancient buildings and grand monuments alike have been demolished in the name of progress, and against this pubs have never really stood a chance. As a small example casting a particularly nostalgic shadow when we see old photos of them, coaching inns stretching back centuries and mentioned (or used) by the greatest of authors and historical figures, were swept away by past rebuilding (the last around the turn of the 20th century).1 Even now, few pubs are listed historical buildings, and they continue to disappear as it suits developers (The Wenlock Arms [Hoxton N1] being only the most recent of such battles).

The Reasons for Pub Closures

The closure and repurposing of pubs is an outcome of many different social trends over time: changes in population distribution; changes to work/living practices; the decline in social drinking (aspects of which are linked to law changes); the erosion of neighbourhood cohesion (changes to work practices, increase in public transport options); the explosion of property prices; the stranglehold exercised by PubCos; and others. I shall write below about just three such areas, before moving on to spotting former pubs.

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Book Reviews: The Local

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.

The Local by Maurice Gorham and Edward Ardizzone
Figure 83. The Local by Maurice Gorham and Edward Ardizzone.

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.

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Craft Beer Pubs

Since this blog was created, indeed probably since the last time it was updated, the term “craft beer” has become a much-ballyhooed part of the beer scene in London. There are still only a handful of pubs that might justifiably be called “craft beer pubs” according to the recent use of this term, but I’ll need to address what exactly it is before I can address the pubs themselves.

The Euston Tap (Euston NW1)
Figure 80. The Euston Tap (Euston NW1).

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Monopoly: The Pubs of Whitechapel Road

My first post of 2010 (as many as three posts ago) was focused on the Monopoly board, so now that 2011 has come, perhaps it’s time for the second property along, which is Whitechapel Road, completing the brown set. Of course, rents along this thoroughfare of E1 are more than £60 now, but even having shed its 19th century reputation for criminality (a time when there were prominent slums in the area, and Jack the Ripper was committing his crimes), it’s still a relatively impoverished area. Moreover, where the community had originally comprised Jews from Spain and Portugal in the 17th century onwards (with a new influx of Eastern European Ashkenazi Jews in the 19th century), it has since the late-20th century given way to primarily Bangladeshi immigrants, and is now dominated by the smells of the many restaurants and the vibrant colours of the clothing shops and stalls of the street market (which can be found most days along the main part of the road near the Tube station).

The Blind Beggar (Whitechapel E1)
Figure 78. The Blind Beggar (Whitechapel E1).

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