Tommies Tipple at English Country Pub – at Madras
Not the least interesting sowing of the English pub on foreign soil was in British India, in late 1945.
The British had established breweries in India since the mid-1800s which finally took a large share of the market from British and other imports. British Army consumption dominated the business, with some civilian patronage, mostly European, during the Raj.
With lots of beer in the country there had to be places to drink it. And there were, especially army canteens, managed in the 20th century by a string of centralized canteen organizations (see details in a referenced Wikipedia entry).
And outside the canteens? There were clubs, hotels, dance halls, and what were called taverns. Taverns, vs. say the palm toddy bar, were mostly the preserve of Europeans. These establishments varied in gradation. All the major Indian cities harboured them.
The lower end were sometimes called punch-houses, but the term drops out after about 1850, by my survey.
A full-length book memorialized these taverns, sometimes loosely called hotels (similarly in Australia), Major H. Hobb’s John Barleycorn Bahadur: Old Time Taverns in India (1944).*
Still, in 1945 something special supplemented this pub scene as reported in The Daily Mail, Hull, UK, November 7, 1945 (via British Newspaper Archive):
ENGLISH PUB FOR TROOPS IN INDIA.
Built by Cottingham Expert.
Hundreds of British troops at Avadi, near Madras, India, stream every evening into the first public-house ever built on Indian soil. It is a complete replica of an English country pub—thatched roof, half-timbering and heavy oak doors.
At dusk, lights gleam through the windows, and a notice over the door reads that the pub is kept by T. H. Loseby, who is licensed to sell beer, spirits and tobacco “to be consumed on the premises”!
A homely atmosphere permeates the place—homely talk, laughter, tobacco smoke, and the smell of beer. By the side of the old-fashioned fireplaces, oaken settles are set into the walls. Chairs and tables are tastefully set out on the clean flagged floor. There is a special nook in one room set aside for dart players. Behind the bar stands the landlord C.F.N. T. H. Loseby, of Syston, Leicestershire.
In civil life he was an assistant at the Fox and Hounds Hotel there. He now spends his evenings serving beer and bread and cheese and pickles and has always a cheery word for his customers. The Wade Inn, as it is known, is named after the local area commander, Major-General Wade. It was built by R. D. Herbert, Royal Engineers, of Evergreen, Thwaite-st., Cottingham, who in civil life specialised in the construction of houses of Tudor design.
The Tommies say that in this setting Bangalore beer tastes almost like good old Blighty beer. Two units stationed nearby send the whole of their beer allotment to the Wade Inn so that they and their friends can drink it in appropriate surroundings.
A brewery in Bangalore, long-established by then, was part of a group assembled in 1915 by the entrepreneur Thomas Leishman, the still-dominant United Breweries. What type of beer was made is not clear. Muree Brewery at Rawalpindi was making lager in 1946, see advert in Civil & Military Gazette (Lahore), January 6, 1946, for Gold Ribbon Lager.
(Image from Wikipedia at this link).
Whether ale or lager was made in Bangalore, it seems a difference was detected from English beer, but not disliked for that.
Note how the writer states “first public-house ever built on Indian soil”. Of course, literally that was not so. Equivalents had longed functioned in India, since the 1700s at least, as Hobbs’ book and other sources show. Many were named in the British manner, the Royal Oak in Bombay, for example, a seaman’s pub.**
What was meant, surely, was the simulacrum: the copying of English details to make it look as of home. That is a suitably late development. British rule was waning, and (in our interpretation) what typified British India earlier didn’t seem British enough; a more patent symbol was needed.
There was an evident punning on “Wade Inn” which either escaped the journalist or more likely was felt unsuitable for broadsheet commentary in the 1940s.
Avadi still houses a military establishment, Indian of course today – and lots of pubs, some named to suggest an English connection. But the Wade Inn seems long gone. At least, I couldn’t find a trace.***
I continue with Part II.
*I read parts of the book, not, mainly, an enjoyable experience. Henry (Harry) Hobbs – “Major”, I glean, came from his service with a Calcutta reserve force – wrote in a knowing, almost leering way. While one accustoms with distaste to occasional – not invariable – racial denigration in period accounts, often it manifests as a casual thing, not focused and repeated. It is different in this case, as while Hobbs took pride in being an old Calcuttan and recorded useful social history, the tone regarding Indians and some others, Jews especially, is continual, unpleasant, and at times ugly.
It remains the case that we must take history as we find it, unpleasant as the task sometimes is.
Hobbs was an English piano tuner and occasional musician who emigrated in the late 1800s. In the course of a successful business career that extended to hotel work, he became an amateur historian and wrote numerous books and papers describing the society he knew. He died at 92, in 1956, and remained in Calcutta until the end. For further biography on Hobbs, see the informative article by Devasis Chattopadhyay, “Harry Hobbs: Old Calcutta’s Beloved Chronicler”, published April 10, 2021 in Live History India.
**June 1, 1863, Bombay Gazette, a seaman is imprisoned for two months for throwing a marling-spike at another man in the Royal Oak. In her 2003 The City and Its Fragments: Colonial Bombay, 1854-1918, Preeti Chopra noted that many low-end taverns traded near the (Royal Alfred) Sailors’ Home in the port area (today a police headquarters). She states the latter was nearer to the European section than what was called Native City. I believe many of the taverns were in between.
***Thanks to Mark Shirley who pointed out on Twitter (@RFCider) that Army publican Loseby was from Syston, Leicestershire, not, as I originally wrote, Systop. Now mended. Mark blogs excellently on pubs, see his Twitter feed for more details.