‘A Parson Running a Pub’ (Part II)

‘A Pulpit in a Sense Novel’

Father Basil Lee Jellicoe, who died at only 36 in 1935, promoted a reformed, Christian-aligned pub, see our Part I, here. It may seem unlikely he can speak to us in person of his plans – from behind the bar – but he can.

From the Digital Video Repository of the University of South Carolina’s Moving Image Research Collections, you may watch the well-spoken “padre-publican” articulate his goals in 1930 from the Anchor Inn in Somers Town, London. He acknowledges he advocates a “pulpit in a sense novel” but builds his case well.

The film, from Fox Movietone, runs for over five minutes, and is in three parts.* First, the Father’s sermon (in effect). Second, a group of customers is shown, mostly women, all in happy mood, drinking a dark beer which perhaps was porter. They exchange witticisms in strong voice, some of which I can make out.

Those attuned to British speech patterns can probably figure out the whole thing – it would be interesting to read a transcription. Jellicoe does not appear in this part.

The third section is another group of customers, male or mostly, with Jellicoe now present, leading them all in song. He plays a small accordion and smiles broadly as he leads his pub-church choir. One of the men is dressed in “pearly king” fashion.

Pints and halves of beer are drawn continually, and hoisted. I cannot recall seeing before a film of people actually speaking in the pub before WW II.

Here you see the reality of what Basil Jellicoe tried to achieve, and something of the prewar pub in action. Extraordinary.


*The film is actually a compilation of “outtakes”. This Movietone clip appears to be the official release, but it is much shorter, and while differing in part, does not add significantly to the outtakes version. The main difference we see is the Father’s matinée smile is highlighted better here. Also, note how fast – expertly – the pints were pulled in those days. There were no two ways about it.

‘A Parson Running a Pub’ (Part I)

… With a Royal Hand

In 1930 Mary of Teck, Queen Consort to George V, visited the Anchor pub in Somers Town, London, near Euston Station. This was a poor district and it was very unusual for a royal figure to enter its precincts. Certainly royalty had mingled earlier with the common people, and numerous examples can be cited. George III visited the Royal Arsenal in Woolwich, London and lore has it he shared a meal of beans and bacon with the men.

A subset of these visits was encouraging British industry, of which the visit of King George and family to Whitbread Brewery in 1787 is a famous instance. Of the many accounts, this one by Beeretseq in our archives may be of interest.

Queen Mary herself, who lived into the 1950s and saw Britain endure two difficult wars, seemed unusually sympathetic to the people. She was known for her war work that included visits to the injured in hospitals. Perhaps this experience both prepared and encouraged her to visit what in many ways was a civilian counterpart in Depression Britain.

Her visit to the Anchor was covered by numerous American newspapers, this article from Ogdensburg, NY is an example. Clearly she engaged with the people and seemed genuinely interested to learn details of their work.

While the royal visits to bombed East End London in the early 1940s are well-remembered, this earlier foray by a royal figure into disfavoured London – not literally bombed but perhaps metaphorically so – is no less interesting to recall.

The pub, a rebuilt property from the Whitbread Brewery stable, was unusual in itself, in that it had a priest as a landlord, via the St Pancras Housing Society.* The Society was established in the 1920s by Father Basil Lee Jellicoe and others. This unusual man of the cloth, of Establishment background, carved a career as a reformer before his untimely death in 1935 at only 36.

The pub was preceded by two others in the Whitbread camp also placed under control of an improvement society. All were an applied example of the interwar ethos of pub reformation. Other royal figures assisted – sometimes in situ – to promote a practical yet unusual scheme. (A long history, outside our scope here, predates these initiatives. To understand the background, start with the first half of Boak, J. and Bailey, R. (2017) 20th Century Pub. (St. Albans: The Homewood Press).

Unlike some reformist schemes the three pubs served alcohol, and food, although the Anchor for its part at any rate banned spirits. Premises were updated or rebuilt to allow more space and with better decor than most inner-city pubs featured.

They sought to be uplifting, and to avoid the worst aspects of Victorian pubs such as over-serving and toleration of gambling, prostitution, “fencing”, and other unsavoury activities. The pubs were still required to operate on a profit-making basis.**

Hence, a visit to the Anchor by the Queen was no ordinary civilian visit, but symbolized empathy with the Father’s objectives and the people. One may read more about him, the pub project, and his housing initiatives in this 2018 article by Sam Volpe in Ham and High. This earlier assessment (2011) of his legacy is of good point as well, from the London-based Centre for Theology and Community.

In the latter article, the (uncredited) author wrote:

Jellicoe himself was teetotal, and yet one of his most controversial schemes was the establishment of a College for Publicans. His reasoning was pragmatic not judgmental. He wanted the drinkers of Somers Town to get good service and good beer – and to save them from the kind of pub that made its money by encouraging alcoholism and so devouring the whole of a family’s much-needed income.

Jellicoe is still remembered in the 2000s, a period very different from his, yet, in the form of the welfare state, a legacy of the Father’s work. A practical, contemporary way to remember him was highlighted in the same blog entry:

… Jellicoe – slum priest, retreat conductor, social reformer – is the only Anglican priest to have inspired an entire musical. Jellicoe: The Musical had its brief moment of glory eight years ago, treating the residents of Somers Town to such hits as ‘St Pancras House Improvement Society’ and ‘A Parson Running A Pub’. While it has yet to hit the West End or Broadway, the musical is indicative of Jellicoe’s larger-than-life character, and the affection his memory continues to inspire in his old parish.

The building that housed the high-principled Anchor Inn on Chalton (originally Stibbington) Street, no longer exists. Further development brought it down in the mid-1980s to build flats, according to this chronicle of local pub history by Somers Town Museum.

The 1930s furnishes at least one other example of a socially prominent Briton connected somehow to public houses, Ishbel MacDonald. I wrote about her, here.

For a rare visual and aural record of Jellicoe speaking in the pub (not previously known to beer historians, to my knowledge), see Part II.

Note re image: The image above was sourced from the 2011 blog entry identified and linked in the text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.


*Some accounts have it that the pub was owned by the Magdalen College Mission, now called Magdalen College Trust. Clearly, Rev. Jellicoe was involved with both Mission and the St. Pancras Housing Society. In fact, the Society was an initiative of the Magdalen Mission. Another pub under improvement, the Tavistock, was visited by Prince George, another gilded branch of the Jellicoe network. Such public utility societies were trusts financed by public contributions. The societies paid a dividend or interest to share or debenture holders from rent and other revenue received from re-developed slum properties. Jellicoe lived above the Anchor in rooms and ran his curacy of Somers Town from the pub until later transferred to St. Martin-in-the-Fields.

**The fate of the pubs will the subject of a Part III in this series.










What Foretells “a Humid Wind”?

A Bibulous American in Europe, early 1933

Guy Hickok, Ohio-born, Oberlin-graduated, had long been bureau chief for the Daily Eagle in Paris. In February 1933 the paper carried his wry survey of typical European drinking establishments. The object – to guide Americans in the choice of bar to be allowed post-Prohibition.

Of course Prohibition had not yet ended, but as Hickok noted, the air was “humid” and there was talk of “percentages”, or alcohol content in the beer to come. He forecast that normally a “congressional junket” would be organized to do a grand bar tour to help frame the new laws, but given this would provide fodder for “comic papers and cartoonists” he would do the job himself, for only the price of an Eagle.

Throughout the piece the evil of the old American saloon is a given. It seems to have been a societal idée reçue at the time, one of those shibboleths few dissented from, even the “wets”. So it was a question of what type of bar, different from the old saloon, would suit American ways post-Repeal.

The same question was debated endlessly in brewing technical journals – one of the few things they had to talk about during Prohibition – other specialized, and popular, publications, and Congressional klatches.

Hickok profiled three countries’ drinking places: U.K., France, and Germany. His profile of the last two is positive, of Britain rather gloomy. Here, he falls on the naysaying side of American journalists who had investigated British public houses since the mid-19th century. As I’ve shown in numerous postings, some perceived the deep hold the public house had on the public imagination, and the positive role in general the pub performed.

Others tended to focus, as some British reformers did, on perceived iniquities such as public drunkenness, street disorder, and family dislocation. Hickok’s pub survol is overly superficial in our view. Even the relatively plush West End pubs of London received at most a lukewarm nod.

Of Germany, he stated what many American observers had (not quite all, but most) since the 19th century. The beer gardens and indoor bars were resorts for the family, with no intoxication evident, providing food as well which most partook except (he said) lovers preoccupied more with themselves, and music to soothe guests for a respite. Of the beer he states little except that it was “bright”, apparently in contrast to the English type for which he had only negative remarks.

A “yeasty” odour in the bar, and overflowing glasses, distressed him in particular.

The French bars get the most attention, not surprisingly given Hickok was based in Paris for 15 years, from 1918-1933. Much of what he states applies no less today, as I had the chance to see during a five-week sojourn in France recently. Most arrivals tend to have one drink, and often coffee or lemonade instead of alcohol although today Coke or another soft drink often substitutes for lemonade or Orangina.

His two types of French bar were the cafe, still the main type although sometimes called a brasserie, and le zinc, the small bar originally made of that material that tended to serve wine and was mainly a workman’s resort.

He refers to decorous morning drinking, by no means a rare event even today in France, usually a small beer or two.

Certainly, the zinc still exists, I saw examples in Paris, and some still specialize in wines especially Beaujolais, the traditional wine of Paris although made far afield. But there are ever fewer of them, and for the first time of many visits to Paris, I never entered one. Occasionally you see a zinc bar in a usual cafe, transplanted there to provide a furnishing both evocative of an earlier time and (presumably) economical.

I’ll conclude in relation to his remark that in larger German cities the speakeasy and American nightclub were being imitated. Although he doesn’t mention it, Paris had similar examples, London too. As soon as cocktails became fashionable internationally, which occurred well before WW I, establishments to dispense them sprang up everywhere including Europe’s capitals.

Today, the craft beer bar does similar service. Ideas popular in one place take root quickly elsewhere, the phenomenon is not new and drinking customs provide a perfect example. He said nothing more of these places though, understanding that Americans hardly needed guidance in their ways!

N.B. A bonus in Hickok’s sketch, one that sets it apart from similar treatments, is the reproduction of various artworks, lending a photo-essay touch albeit quaintly in this case. The S. Van Abbé shown is particularly good, an intaglio drypoint that pinpoints a typical tourist and bar staff encounter – each trying to understand the other. The tourists appear to be a father and daughter, no doubt on the grand tour. See this interesting biographical note on S.[Salomon] Van Abbé.




Beer Barrel Confidential

Daddy Keg Tells all

A workaday trade journal is not the kind of place one expects to see material of a frankly historical bent, much less of literary felicity. The looking-glass of history, or rather drinks history with which I’m concerned here, is more the province of a few specialized writers – academics, bloggers, independent researchers.

You can tell them, in fact, on first sight: their clothes tend to rumpling, their brows, furrowed; their minds, back in the 1970s or 1770s or whatever distant period occupies their present attention.

Still, historical treatments occasionally appear in the pages of American and British brewing journals, sometimes of literary merit. I’ve chronicled a few instances here.

Another is furnished by the January, 1938 issue of The American Brewer, newly available online courtesy Hagley Digital Archives. A clue is the rather unusual title: “‘I am the Daddy of Beer Kegs in the United States‘”. The article appeared at pp. 40 et seq., see here.

The journal was celebrating its 70th anniversary, and took the occasion to include historically themed articles in this issue. One treats of the differences in American brewing between 1867 and present day; another in the advances in motor transport, and so on.

Using the device of personification, a history of the American beer barrel 1870s-1938 was presented. In the amiable way of a 1930s fireside chat Daddy Beer Keg told his own story and that of American “beer cooperages”. Why the Daddy? Because he was certified in a trade competition as the oldest still in service in America. The Editor explained:

Several years ago, one of the cooperage magazines ran a contest and awarded a prize for the oldest beer keg in the United States. The prize was awarded to John F. Geyer of Geyer Bros., Frankenmuth, Mich., who submitted proof that his brewery was still using two kegs which had been in service for sixty years.

A photo of the winning entry was included and Daddy Beer Keg looked remarkably hale, made as he was from 100-year-old American White Oak and held by six galvanized steel hoops – not his original iron hoops of 1878, but he explains all this.

With understated literary skill Daddy Keg, in reality James C. Mullen of Verdi Bros. Cooperage in New Jersey, described his birth, or assemblage to use his term, taking matters right up to present day when experimental metal kegs posed a likely challenge. The elegiac tone indicates Daddy Keg knew the wood barrel days were numbered, but still he expressed a preference for the tried and true oak barrel, being one himself, after all (as he explained).

There are many bon mots, as well as excellent historical data conveyed, but you can read it for yourselfI liked these lines in particular, which arouse a justified indignation at the treatment important inanimate objects often receive:

When I see some of the substitutes for the wooden beer keg, which have appeared of late years in an attempt to take my place, I can’t help wondering what they will look like if they ever get to be as old as I am …. For several years I tried to keep track of the trips I made between the brewery and saloons and some of the strange places I visited. In the Summer, I would be out in the blazing sun for hours, and in the Winter with the thermometer reading below zero and I would be covered with snow and ice, nevertheless, I always protected the beer within me and delivered it with only a very slight change in temperature to my appointed customer. When the wagon was backed up before the tavern, sometimes I would be on top of the load and the driver would allow me to drop seven or eight feet on to a hard pavement or curb stone, after which I would be dropped to a basement floor. I have been left for days in damp places with mud all over me and have been shoved up against radiators and furnaces until I almost caught fire. At times, the cellar in which I was placed would be a dirty hole with a terrible smell and this filthy air would be drawn through a pump and mixed with my beer and when the customer complained, I would be unjustly blamed.

Verdi Bros. were obviously a valued advertising account of the journal. Page 6 contains a striking image of their burnished 1938 Verbros-brand keg – likely the height of advance in the field before metal kegs indeed consigned wood beer kegs to history.

It is true, some wood vessels for beer have returned, popularized initially by the fashion for bourbon barrel Imperial Stout. Daddy Keg of 1938 would be bemused that beer in 2019 is racked into these for direct contact with the wood – no steaming pitch, hardened to a firm seal, interposes between fibrous wood and sloshy beer. Daddy Keg took good care in his autobiography to explain how he endured the pitch treatment time and again to keep beer and wood separate.

And yet, that’s the way of things, isn’t it? As the January 1938 issue shows lots had changed in American brewing since The American Brewer started publishing. Lots has changed in the 80 years since the issue, too, including at what is now called Frankenmuth Brewery.

Maybe the current 300-seat restaurant and brewery of that name houses Daddy Keg himself, who would be, what 141 years old? If he is still around, I’m sure he’d have lots to say from the standpoint of a retired old hand. Bring the pitch back would be the first, I think.