Since arriving in London from Yorkshire to work in the City in the late 1980s I’ve navigated my way around the capital by pubs. One of the first areas I investigated was the smart enclave of Belgravia and one of my favourite pubs remains The Grenadier, which I’d just visited before I read The London Pub (in the Vintage Britain series from Hoxton Mini Press) and found a photo of this very pub c.1935.
Visually on the outside it appears that very little has changed during the intervening 80-plus years and it is pleasing to say that the book highlights just how many characteristics appear to remain unchanged with the London pub. The glorious images that fill this photo album style publication show lots of smiling faces as the pub has always brought people together to socialise and share the joys of life. Many of the interiors of the properties very much resemble many of the city’s pubs today and the wide age ranges pubs attract clearly remains very much intact today.
But there is also lots that have changed since these photographs were taken – dating between the years of 1874 and 1997. They mainly reflect male-dominated environments, there are rather a lot of images of young children hanging around on the street while their parents drink away inside, everybody seems to wear overcoats inside that suggests there was very little heating in many pubs (we might be heading back that way), and the only drink available seems to be dark beer.
It is also noticeable how the featured pubs, and London itself, looks rather dishevelled in a way that fans of The Sweeney will know very well as Regan and Carter chase armed thugs around the capital’s streets that remained scarred from the Second World War and from a lack of invest in the city’s infrastructure.
London’s subsequent overhaul and rise to become a leading global city has undoubtedly, and very sadly, led to the demise of rather too many of the pubs featured in the book. It is also a fact of life that people clearly have many more leisure options today on a Friday night than popping to their local pub and this has come at a cost.
Yes, this book does highlight some disappointing trends but the overriding feeling upon reading this publication is skewed way more towards joy. The terrific mix of images show just how integral the pub is to people’s lives in the UK. Certainly my time in London has been massively enriched by spending far too much time in the cities hostelries. I’m pleased to say that many are featured in this book and still drawing in people today. The French House, The Blackfriar, The Queen’s Head & Artichoke, and Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese. And on that note…
Glynn Davis, editor, Beer Insider