‘A Parson Running a Pub’ (Part III)

In Part I and Part II of this series I described the work of Rev. Father Basil Jellicoe (1899-1936), an Anglo-Catholic cleric who ministered in the deprived district of Somers Town, London via the Magdalen Mission. He was a landmark figure in interwar urban regeneration and also had a unique vision for the mean streets pub.

Instead of promoting temperance albeit a non-drinker himself, he believed the urban pub could be a force for good, despite that is serving alcohol. He promoted model pubs, of which the Anchor on Chalton Street is best remembered. He managed these under special arrangement with the owner Whitbread Brewery, as social centres that would offer companionship without pressure to drink, food at good prices, comfortable surroundings, and a non-violent atmosphere.

Jellicoe also promoted a “College for Publicans” (not realized) that would train publicans how to do their work in a socially responsible way. Queen Mary (Mary of Teck) was the most senior Royal figure to bestow recognition of his efforts by visiting the Anchor with him.

My Part II includes a link to a striking 1930 Fox Movietone sound reel showing Jellicoe advocating his position from behind the bar. Customers are shown – and heard – drinking and jesting in a way evident in English pubs at least from the late 1800s. Indeed their mien and deportment are familiar to us today as typical pub behaviour if we account for change of dress styles and the propensity of people nowadays to stare at cellphones. (Recorded or live music apart, pubs are probably quieter than they used to be due to this factor alone).

But what happened to Jellicoe’s heroic Anchor pub?

Alistair Mutch is a Professor of Information and Learning at the Nottingham Business School of Nottingham Trent University. In 2007 he authored a paper on interwar pub improvement as advanced by Sydney Nevile, a longtime director of Whitbread Brewery in London.*

Using in particular the private papers of Nevile and a 1936 biography of Jellicoe, Basil Jellicoe, written by Anglo-Catholic theologian Kenneth IngramMutch describes the genesis and fate of pub reform in the hands of Jellicoe-Nevile.

He states that the three pubs made subject to the plan were not a commercial success. The Anchor had been rebuilt and refitted at a cost of 11,000 pounds and while it turned an acceptable annual profit the rebuilding cost was not recouped (or evidently not in the period felt acceptable).

Further, as the three pubs together were realizing a loss by 1934, they were returned to normal management methods. One of them, the Tavistock, was transferred to a body formed in the 1920s to favour public houses that served meals, the Restaurant Public Houses Association, but Mutch explains that it thereby lost the special character Jellicoe sought to confer.

Sydney Nevile felt that many pubs were too small to be refitted in the way Jellicoe wanted, to create seating areas where meals could be served versus the cramped, stand up bars still common then in London. But we think as well, or reading between the lines, that Nevile realized commercial goals and social activism of the type Jellicoe wanted did not synchronize.

Mutch makes the point that old-line families controlling Whitbread’s and other brewers that supported pub improvement were animated as much if not more by British social solidarity and the Anglican spirit as by the secular Progressivism then fashionable.

The many improvements to licensed pubs in Britain and North America since the 1930s – to public drinking spaces in general – can be seen as both fulfillment and vindication of Jellicoe’s vision. The ideas of social responsibility and fraternity (communion, if you will) that spurred the model pub were picked up in the secular sphere. Pubs are just one example of this phenomenon, of course, but in a previous time, social reform was largely the province of private groups and churches were signal leaders.

We need only think in Ontario today of “smart-serve” policies – the requirement that servers be trained not to over-serve and otherwise deal responsibly with customers – as a partial College of Publicans, it is the same order of ideas. In a way, too, the various private certification (education) programs that train servers on the qualities and characteristics of beer, wine, whisky, etc. are an example.** I think Jellicoe would have approved all these initiatives.

Speaking of Ontario, Jellicoe visited Toronto in the early 1930s. Materials currently available to me on his visit are slight, but they do show he was offended by the presence of homelessness and poor housing in the city. If our civic and church officials expected a decorous visit from an Establishment clergyman, it was not quite of that order.

As a further example of Jellicoe being avant la lettre, he also advocated a “children’s pub” where children could sip milk while their parents had a drop of ale in the next room. The idea was reported by The Indianapolis Times in 1930, see here. One need only think of play sections at modern beer festivals, or how children routinely accompany parents at the modern pub-restaurant, to see the prophecy of his vision.

For rectitude-bound Americans still approving of National Prohibition – and even for many not approving – reading this with the morning coffee must have caused a sputtering or two. There were many in Britain and the Dominions who likewise disapproved of pub reform à la Jellicoe. A disgruntled Temperance campaigner even showed up at one of his pubs with a loaded revolver!

The incident (it ended peaceably) was recalled by Jellicoe himself in a compelling piece from 1933 in Brisbane’s Sunday Mail, see here. Indeed the article serves as a comprehensive but compact expression of Jellicoe’s philosophy. Ever the provocateur, he even argues to set up a nightclub based on his principles!

It may seem that Jellicoe is being overly credited with a far-reaching reformist legacy, but due in part to his charisma and talent for publicity his model public house was internationally publicized in the English-speaking world. Indeed a 2008 article assessing his influence as a housing reformer (by Roland Jeffery, see the asterisked note in our Part I) credits him with a special influence on modern urban renewal.

Taking the broadest view of what Father Jellicoe tried to achieve, a letter in 1930 to another Australian newspaper, Adelaide’s Advertiser, is instructive. It was written by Maud Liston, an Australian novelist. She argued that Jellicoe’s reimagined inner city pub was in many ways a return to the old village pub. In her words:

… the Anchor Inn venture is more in the line of experience than of experiment. If it is new to the slums, it is quite in the tradition of the old English village inn, which has centuries of useful life behind it, for the inn, in common with the other activities of the place, sheltered under the village church and shared in its peaceful and hallowing influence. Father Jellicoe’s venture is a return to the old English way of hallowing the common things of life …

This theme of a Progressive or model public house dovetailing with the image of a benign if not venerated village pub was probably over-romantic – indeed we shall write anon of this viewpoint – yet Liston’s formulation has an essential truth, we think.

Finally, just as Jellicoe was unorthodox in his advocacy of the public house albeit a sanely-run one, it strikes us that Nevile was unusual in his efforts to combine social responsibility with the bottom line. Long-lived Sydney Nevile was country-born (Scarborough, Yorkshire), from a grandee family. Yet his education differed from many of his background in that he was apprenticed in a brewery from age 14. He had evidently a wide knowledge of the conditions of all the company’s pubs and the peoples who staffed and patronized them.

We hasard that he understood something similar to what Maud Liston expressed, and this played a role in his alliance with the Father, together with the other factors noted.

The point is, both men were animated by something more than just expedience. They didn’t just go with the flow, with the usual modus operandi of life.

This obituary, from the Journal of the Institute of Brewing, will interest those who wish to know more of Sydney Nevile (1873-1969). Further information, including viz. Jellicoe, can be gleaned from Nevile’s memoir, Seventy Rolling Years.


*The title is “Improving the Public House in Britain, 1920-1940: Sir Sydney Nevile and ‘social work'”. A version appeared under that title in the journal Business History in 2010. The scholar David Gutzke has also studied extensively the subject of pub improvement in the 20th century and the stance and motives of different brewers, notably in his Pubs and Progressives: Reinventing the Public House in Britain 1896-1960 (2007).

**The RPHA, which continued at least into the war years, did engage in training barmen. This aspect can, therefore, be viewed as an early attempt to implement a “College for Publicans”. Jellicoe stated numerous times that publicans came to the field without prior training due to economic pressure, for example holding a naval pension inadequate to live on. Hence they were impelled to encourage over-drinking to the exclusion of other aspects of hospitality. In his vision of the model pub, it could achieve social goals, indeed Christian social goals, while still earning a living wage both for manager and brewery.

Note re image: The above illustration (1884), entitled “An Ale-House Room”, is by the American artist Edwin Abbey, and was sourced from the online Yale Art Gallery, here. Expressed to be in the public domain. Used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.






‘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 beer drawn and people actually speaking in the pub this early before before WW II.

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

For the final part of our series on Basil Jellicoe, see Part III.


*The film is actually a compilation of “outtakes”. This Movietone clip appears to be the official release, and is available on YouTube among its British Movietones selections, but is much shorter than the MIRC outtake version and does not add significantly to it. The main difference we note is the Father’s matinée smile is highlighted better in the official release. 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 internationally including by many American newspapers, this article from Ogdensburg, New York 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 in the Whitbread Brewery stable, was unusual in itself, in that it had a priest as a landlord, via the St Pancras Housing Improvement 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 including the famous Carlisle Scheme during WW I. The first half of Boak, J. and Bailey, R. (2017) 20th Century Pub. (St. Albans: The Homewood Press) provides a helpful, general introduction to a multiform topic).

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, testimony to the Father’s influence. A  lively, 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 managed for Whitbread by Magdalen College Mission, now the Magdalen College Trust. Clearly, Rev. Jellicoe was involved with both Mission and the St. Pancras Housing Improvement Society. In fact, the Society was an initiative of Magdalen Mission as represented by Jellicoe. It seems the Anchor was originally managed by Jellicoe and/or Magdalen College Mission but had a close association with the St. Pancras Housing Improvement Society. Another pub under Jellicoe improvement, the Tavistock, was visited by Prince George, another gilded connection of the Jellicoe network. These public utility societies were public benefit trusts financed by public contributions. The societies paid a fixed dividend or interest to share or debenture holders from revenue received from re-developed slum properties. Jellicoe lived above the Anchor in rooms and ran his curacy of Somers Town from the pub (and St. Mary’s Church) until transferred to St. Martin-in-the-Fields.

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

*** However, a 2008 account of Somers Town urban renewal during the 1920s and 1930s has it that the original building still stands albeit was “clumsily” converted to flats, in the 1990s moreover. See “Housing Happenings in Somers Town”, Roland Jeffery, Twentieth Century Architecture, No. 9, Housing the Twentieth Century Nation (2008), pp. 24-36










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.





Contes d’Opales – Glorious Ghent

Hi, it’s Libby again. We took a hiatus the last couple of days, resting up from a marvellous three days in Ghent, Belgium, before hitting the road again tomorrow for a quick trip to Le Touquet.

In planning our trip to the north of France last winter, I happened to read one of the New York Times’ “36 Hours” travel series touting the charms of Ghent (see here) as one of Europe’s best kept secrets. It oohed and aahed over this overlooked Flemish city’s canals, spires, cobblestone streets and some of Belgium’s best food and historic architecture and design.

It sounded like a must-see spot, so I booked a nice B&B and a car to get us there. We ended up cancelling the car and took a train instead, via Lille and Courtrai (Kortrijk in Flemish). Once there, we hopped on the number 4 local tram which took us to our accommodation in the old town. To be honest, the trip from the train station on the tram through workaday Ghent did not reveal any of the promised treasures. But once inside the old city, WOW!

Ghent is a city of 260,000 inhabitants, of whom 70,000 are students. It lies at the confluence of the rivers Lys and Scheldt and derives its name from the Celtic word for confluence. Ghent was once one of Europe’s two largest cities, after Paris, due to its burgeoning wool trade. In the 1500s, however, the people of Ghent rebelled against Emperor Charles the 5th as they were unwilling to pay his taxes. The emperor arrived in Ghent to restore order and revoked Ghent’s rights and privileges. The punishment and humiliation of its dignitaries were so severe that Ghent lost its leading position in Europe. Some regard that as a fortunate event, as Ghent was able to retain a smaller city atmosphere and matching civic pride.

I took a two and a half hour free walking tour and was introduced  to a bevy of Ghent’s architectural and other delights, for example:

–  the tour started just outside of a youth hostel on St. Michael’s bridge which spans the river Lys. Whichever way you look, you see picture-postcard views of three medieval towers, St. Nicholas church, the Belfry, and St. Bavo’s Cathedral.

The bridge itself is an early 20th century construct, having been erected as part of the 1913 World’s Fair which took place in Ghent that year. The gothic cathedral, on the other hand, dates back to the 16th century and stands on the site of two previous churches dating, respectively, from the 10th and 12th centuries. The Belfry is a 91 metre edifice; adorned on its top is the “Dragon of Ghent”, the city’s symbol. St. Nicholas’ Church predates them all, having been constructed in the 12th century.

–  a 16th century gothic town hall where local Ghent citizens can enter only to marry and work;

– the Castle of the Counts, a medieval castle that was occupied only once – in the 1940s by drunken students protesting a proposed increase in beer prices (!);

– on either side of the river Lys, the quays of Graslei and Korenlei boast several outstanding buildings, formerly used as grain warehouses, one of which leans forward (on purpose) to make it easier to hoist up the sacks of grain which passed through this inland port.

Another building, now the Marriott’s signature hotel, once housed a brothel, where sailors spent many an evening. The golden swans facing away from one another on the hotel facade signify its earlier purpose.

– Ghent displays its civic pride in a multitude of ways. It carefully uplights its squares and historic buildings, making an evening stroll through the city’s fairytale setting the height of romance.

Amongst the vibrant squares we visited was the Vrijdagmarkt, where a lively Friday morning market (produce, prepared foods, baked goods and clothes) took place. We had breakfast and coffee on this square and noticed the locals having early morning beers on the terraces of some of the restaurants.

Also on this square, we were introduced to the renowned Dulle Griet pub, with a wonderful old Flemish interior, where no less than 500 different beers are available, including, for a price, the award-winning, Westvleteren Trappist beers. We watched as others imbibed the house beer from a large bootshaped “stirrup” glass – patrons are required to give up a shoe when ordering one of these beers in order to avoid the glass being purloined as a souvenir. The shoe is hoisted up to the ceiling in a cage and returned to the patron after the beer is consumed.

In the centre of the square stands a statue of one of the city’s most prominent entrepreneurs, Jacob Van Artevelde, who was responsible for developing the lucrative wool trade and who became a city hero. Around the corner from this most romantic square, an artisan chocolate shop sells its handmade, delicious Belgian chocolates. I bought 6 pieces for under 5 Euros!

– our tour guide also pointed out that Ghent was not only known for its beer and chocolates, but also for its frites. He inspired us by indicating the location of his three favourite “frites” places and carefully warned us not to call them “French Fries” as the locals would take offence. While you can have them with mayonnaise, they are also served as a main course with Flemish stews and other meals as an accompaniment. Yum!

– amongst the beer, frites and chocolate outlets lies a fantastic store specializing in vintage and new wallpaper. Apparently, the White House orders its wallpaper from this store, and it is widely known in Ghent. It had no name I could see on its front door, but its windows were replete with the most beautiful wallpaper I had ever seen. The prices were set out clearly in the window and when I asked, I was told the price was per roll. Some of the most beautiful ones were only 24 Euros per roll!

– I didn’t even mention other sites that were pointed out to us – Graffiti Street, an alleyway reserved for Ghent’s many graffiti artists. (As a result, one hardly sees graffiti on any other street in the city.) Or, the new open-concept city pavilion, or Ghent’s Design Museum across from which we had a light dinner one night, or the brand new De Krook library, an irregularly layered steel and glass edifice representing the new architectural face of Ghent, but whose windows symbolically reflect the old cathedral.

Other squares we visited included the Groentenmarkt where vendors sell the famous cuberdons, or “noses of Ghent”, a cone-shaped Belgian candy. That square also features a “food truck” selling the most delicious oysters I ever had and glasses of champagne or chilled white wine.

Another square, the Korenmarket, is surrounded by many beautiful buildings, often housing excellent restaurants, including one called “du Progres” where Gary enjoyed a filet of chicken with mushroom sauce. Gary noticed that the chicken had whiter flesh than our chickens, ditto the famed Licques chicken in France. Perhaps it was the famous poulet fermier or even the aforesaid chicken from Licques.

On our way back from that delightful dinner, we popped into the local genever-only bar, in a picturesque setting right on the banks of the canal, right beside the Het Waterhuis aan de Bierkant, another of Ghent’s historic beer pubs. This genever specialty cafe specializes in 215 genever flavours, ranging from classic Dutch-style gin to exotic gins flavoured with vanilla, coconut and cactus.

Finally, no description of our trip to Ghent would be complete without mention of our hour long tour threading through the rivers and canals of Ghent in a long slim, open air boat. Fantastic!

How can you tell we fell in love with Ghent? It was hard not to.

So, with this lengthy post I am signing off and returning the pen to Gary. We’re back to Paris this Saturday and then home to Toronto on the 5th. It’s been a great journey and I’ve really enjoyed sharing it with you. Hope you enjoyed it too!

Until the next trip, a  bientot!



Contes d’Opale – Pot Pourri

Hi, everyone – Libby again. Well, I want to catch you up on our adventures, culinary and otherwise, since I last wrote.

We settled into day-to-day living in Boulogne-sur-Mer for a while, with me attending fitness classes at a nearby gym called “BodyFit Club”. I’m fitting in with the regulars there, who now greet me with “air kisses” on both sides (as if I was one of “les gars”), and trying to keep up as the instructor called out his instructions, in French, “un, deux, trois, remontre, encore”.

Meanwhile, back at the flat, Gary was cooking up a storm with his already famous “carbonnade a la flamande” with French beef, local beer, and Pas-de-Calais’ own smoked garlic. We thought the French beef was superior to Canadian for this dish, but even if it wasn’t, it sure tasted good alongside the superb Cote de Rhone our landlord left for us when we arrived at the flat (along with two jars of excellent local pate, a selection of French cheeses, and some jellied candies).

We decided to spread our wings again after our Lille jaunt to day-trip the connected set of towns called Les Etaples and Le Touquet just up the coast not far from Boulogne. A short train ride took us to the combined Etaples-Le Touquet station.

Since it was market day in Etaples, and Le Touquet was still a bus-ride away, we resolved to focus on Etaples that day and return another day to Le Touquet. French President Macron represents that riding as it happens, and apparently has a house there.

Etaples turned out to have a lovely, bustling market full of locals buying produce and household items. Etaples is a fishing port and boasts some seriously good fish vendors and fish restaurants. We saw the freshest and most inviting fish and seafood of the trip at a fish market and adjoining restaurant called Aux Pecheurs d’Etaples.

Fish caught that very day is prepared by the chef and his team there and reservations are at a premium. We couldn’t get a table but resolved to return next week. Instead, we installed ourselves on the sunny patio of Au Vieux Port right on the main square where we received a warm welcome and enjoyed delicious salads and local beer and wine. Gary noticed the heaping portions of steaming moules marinieres and wants to go back. Sigh, so many things to do and taste and so little time!

A day later, we headed to Saint Omer only 50 km away, where we spent overnight. We heard, from a vendor in the Boulogne outdoor market, that Saint Omer’s market was not to be missed, if one likes such things – which we do. This time, the train ride required a switch in a small town called Les Fontinettes.

Having gotten on and off a half dozen French trains on this trip, we have been amazed that not once have we been asked for our tickets. No one comes to collect your ticket. No conductor paces through the cars and no one stands at the entry way to the tracks. Strange.

In any event, Saint Omer turned out to be a dream. Untouched by the world wars, it has much to recommend it. Beautiful, spacious squares, clean streets, historic architecture, and much more.

We were more than impressed by their “jardins public”, a 20-hectare public garden, described as “one of the finest and most original landscaped parks in the north of France.”

It has a multitude of delights including manicured English and French gardens, the remains of the ramparts designed by Vauban on its western edge, a 1905 carousel (hidden from the Germans), a gazebo, and a zoo of chickens, roosters, ducks and peacocks with even an occasional fawn. It also has outdoor gym equipment and fitness areas.

A city brochure explains as follows:

”The multiplication of public gardens in the 19th century stemmed from a trend among the bourgeoisie who wished to reproduce the way the aristocracy lived during the ancien regime. The landscaped gardens of Saint Omer immediately became a favourite place for a stroll or for enjoying leisure pursuits. Nothing has changed in that respect.”

The historical centre reflects a treasure trove of riches. A recently renovated beautiful theatre, formerly its town hall, holds court in the main square.

In addition, Saint Omer’s beautiful cathedral dates from the 13th century. Its interior is now known as one of the richest in France. Its two main treasures are the clock dating from 1558 and its organ case but the woodcarving is also spectacular. In addition, the ruins of an abbey created in the 7th century are available for a visit.

Finally, the library of Saint Omer is now housed in a part of what once was an old Jesuit school (both French and English Jesuits resided there.) There is a collection of ancient books, amongst them a copy of two of the most sought-after books in the world, the Gutenberg Bible and a First Folio of Shakespeare. We were given a personal tour by the resident director of the library, a Ph.D. in medieval literature who actually discovered the aforementioned Shakespearean tome. He told us that the French Jesuits who were previously resident there and who were tasked with the job of cataloguing the ancient library’s contents perhaps didn’t fully realize that they had a First Folio copy of Shakespeare’s works and catalogued the author as “Guillaume Shakespeare”. This delayed revelation of the holding.


Saint Omer is also considered to be foodie heaven with many excellent restaurants, some regionally-focused. We had dinner one night at a place called the “Dries Kalder”. Its owner has an off-beat sense of humour with a series of ladies’ bras strung over a laundry line suspended from the ceiling. Notwithstanding, it was one of the best meals of the trip; Gary absolutely loved the waterzooi, a Flemish stew of fish (it can also be made with chicken), vegetables, including carrots, leeks and potatoes, and a light cream sauce.

Saint Omer was a highlight of our trip to that point; but next we went to Ghent in Belgium for a three-day visit. It was the “cherry on top”. But, more on beautiful Ghent in my next post, so stay tuned.

A bientot!



Contes d’Opale – Adventures in Lille

Having spent a week or so in Boulogne, we decided, for a change of pace, to visit the sizeable metropolis of Lille, which is in the far north of France, inland, not far from the Belgian line.

We have a warm remembrance of the city of Lille from about 30 years ago, where we hooked up with Michael Jackson, the famous beer writer (not the rock star, although our Michael Jackson was a rock star in his own right, albeit to the beer world, being responsible to a large degree for the present-day interest in craft beer). Lille holds, for us, fond memories of that rendezvous with Michael, at the then almost-fledgling Les Trois Brasseurs, when the three of us set out on a tour of the artisan breweries making the traditional “biere de garde”, an old specialty of the region.

We had been to Lille several times before that (from Paris) to enjoy the carbonnade a la Flamande, or beef cooked with beer and onions, the pungent Maroilles cheese, Flemish-inflected genever gins, and the breathtaking architecture of the Grande Place and Vielle Ville. Those charms still exist, but, sadly, Michael is no longer with us.

The trip of 2019 started tentatively; it poured heavily as we walked from our apartment in Boulogne-sur-Mer to the SNCF train station, just a 15 minute walk, but which seemed an eternity in the heavy rains. We both got soaked.

The train ride was only a hour and by the time we got to Lille and had lunch, the weather had dramatically changed and the sun shone brilliantly. A notable aspect of this part of the world is the changeability of the weather. One minute it rains; the next, it is sunny and bright. It is not a warm climate and, I have found, a jacket is always needed. As George Bernard Shaw said, the coldest winter I ever spent was summer in San Francisco. Same thing here.

We stayed in a hotel close to the Lille Europe train station where we arrived – Lille Europe is a stopping off point for the Eurostar from St. Pancras station in London on its way to Paris, and just on the edge of the Vielle Ville. That train station is next to a huge modern-day shopping centre called Euralille and to the old train station called Lille Flandres.

By contrast, the old town has cobble-stoned streets and multitudes of independent and high-end clothing and accessories and food stores and many restaurants and bars. I liked, in particular, Gerard Darrel, Satellite, and Un Jours Ailleurs (UJA) there.

Gary enjoyed a craft beer bar called La Capsule in the old town. This is part of their very with-it beer list:

I am told there are three reasons to go to Lille, the food and beer, for business, and for the art collection at the Musee de Beaux Arts.

I would add to that listing, the beautiful architecture of its oldest buildings. The belfry attached to the city’s town hall, the Grande Theatre, and the Nouvelle Bourse are some of the finest examples.

Our short weekend culminated in a day at the Sunday morning Wazemmes Market, a bustling outdoor and covered market with vibrant colours and a wide diversity of clothes, household products, and food.

All in all, a lovely time in Lille. We highly recommend it.

A bientot!

Contes d’Opale – Becoming Boulonnais

Bonjour, mes amis,

Gary and I are settling into the Boulonnais way of life – cooking chez nous and setting up house at our aptly-named apartment-hotel called “Comme a la Maison”. We have a small, but very efficient, kitchen/living-room, bedroom and bathroom. The apartment is spotless and the kitchen has microwave, toaster, a 2-element stove, coffee maker, dishes and utensils – everything you need to feel at home.

We are located in la Vielle Ville on a cobble-stoned street with plenty of restaurants and bars. We are told that our apartment building, dating from the 1500’s, is the oldest edifice in Boulogne.


To set ourselves up, we acquired some basic provisions at the local Casino supermarket – it was fun in and of itself to compare French products with Canadian ones. For example, while searching for 0% fat content Greek plain yogurt, we came across “fromage blanc”. While apparently different in fabrication, they are similar in appearance. We found the fromage blanc a delightful alternative and less acid than yogurt.

Even better then the traditional supermarkets, we joined the throngs of locals for the colourful Saturday farmers’ market centrally situated in Boulogne’s Place Dalton.

Here the vendors offer fresh vegetables right from the nearby fields, regional cheeses, roasted chickens (sur place), honey, jams, olives, roasted garlic (a local specialty) and other regional products as well as all kinds of prepared foods, like paella, couscous and cassoulet.


There is a market at Place d’Alton on Wednesday’s as well and we hope to visit it soon.

We did, however, make our way to the Sunday fish market where there were all kinds of weird and wonderful super fresh fish and seafood we rarely see in Canada, if at all. Right out of the ocean, these fish glimmered in the sunshine.

Some vendors at the Sunday market also offer salads and olive and artichoke tapenades as well as home-prepared baked goods. We remembered the “financiers” (golden brick-shaped cakes) we used to buy in Paris years ago and were delighted to find them here.


Today, we visited the Auchan store on the suburbs of Boulogne. Gary was in seventh heaven as he perused the extremely comprehensive beers of this northern French region (which is traditionally a beer region, ie. too far north to grow grapes) and nearby Belgium.

I’ll leave you with a glimpse of just part of the acreage devoted to beer at Auchan!

A bientot!


A la Recherche du Temps Perdu – Paris

Hi, again. I wanted to reprise the time we spent in Paris, a short 4 days, getting accustomed to the time zone and settling in to the French way of life.

We arrived at Charles de Gaulle via Air France, on a quiet Sunday morning and took the RER B to the Gare du Nord, a short 10 stops from the airport. We were most impressed with Air France – it was very efficient and smooth – once airborne, it was as if you were sitting in your own living room.

This trip, we decided to stay near the Gare du Nord as it is a stop on the RER from the airport and also because it is the train station from which we would depart for the north of France. It’s not the usual touristic area, but it has a lot of good restaurants and bars and is proximate, on foot, to a variety of sites such as Place du Republique,  the Canal St. Martin covered market, Rue Maubeuge, the Marais and Galeries Lafayettes.

In fact, it is only a 20 minute walk from 2 spinning clubs which I attended, Dynamo and Kiwill, which had Soulcycle-style classes, but in French. The classes were good but with with the music blaring at ear-piercing volume, it was difficult for me to hear and understand the instructor’s instructions, en francais, of course, except for the occasional “let’s go”.

While waiting for one of the classes to begin, I resolved to canvass the various modes of transportation used by Parisians to get around their beautiful city. These include the obvious cars, metro and taxis, but now include bikes (regular and e-bikes- see the bike below) as well as something called a “trottinette electrique”.


These trottinettes electriques are driven on the roads or on specially designated bike paths reserved for bikes, but strictly speaking, they are not permitted on the roads, sidewalks or bike paths. We witnessed one rider wipe-out on the trottoir in front of us as he skidded on some damp leaves and lost control. Nevertheless, they are hugely popular. See https://www.bienpublic.com/actualite/2019/02/27/trottinette-electrique-attention-aux-failles-de-securite.

Paris is one of the best cities in the world and each time we are there, we marvel at its beauty, diversity, food and drink and culture. We ate out as we did not have cooking or refrigeration facilities, and in spite of my WeightWatchers regime, could not resist a lemon tart and a couple of buttery croissants.


Paris is relatively calm these days as it is the time of the traditional summer vacances. Even our favourite Canal St. Martin covered market was closed. Dommage. Most businesses appear to re-open mid-month as people come back to the city to resume their business and school lives. We will be back in Paris at the beginning of September, so we hope to visit our usual haunts then.

Today, in Boulogne-sur-Mer, we visited the lively Saturday market, held between 8 a.m. and 1 p.m., in the town square, full of vegetables, fruits, meat, roasted chicken, jams and honey, but more about that tomorrow, so stay tuned.

A bientot!