Ace Bar Server Margaret Winfield of The Eagle, London

Hal Boyle, a U.S. war correspondent, wrote about how to get a drink in wartime London. What was he doing some 25 years later? He was only 57 and still writing his column.the

He was still interested in what goes on in bars, including English ones. So interested that in a 1968 piece he profiled a London server, Margaret Winfield, who had won an award: Ideal Barmaid in England.

She was on a promotional visit to the United States, I’d think for Whitbread the brewer that supplied the pub.

Although a touch condescending the article sheds light on contemporary bar customs in both countries. England’s best servers were said to never wast a drop when pulling a pint, while American bartenders lost too much beer when pouring.

How the English avoided spilling some beer isn’t explained. Maybe the system they once had of recycling beer leavings into a cask still in service explains it. The Americans were pictured as more laissez-faire, hence more generous. The same implication arises when Boyle mentions the low wages a server received in England, then.

Particularly interesting for me was the recitation of 19th century British names for drink concoctions, especially the dog’s nose (gin and beer), but also the granny (old and mild beer) or mother-in-law. In 1968 in greater London, at the height of flower power and Carnaby Street, there were still calls for these tastes of Sherlock Holmes era. The term wallop is mentioned as well, for mild ale, a term I believe originated in the 1800s when mild ale was c. 7% ABV.

Americans were gulping the bullshot, a mix of vodka and beef bouillon. Until recently at any rate this drink was almost forgotten, as lost in time as the dog’s nose, frankly. But Colleen Graham argues at it is coming back. What’s old is new again, maybe.

Gin is popular now in hipster circles, so perhaps we are a hop and skip from the return of the dog’s nose, too.

Boyle stated where Margaret Winfield worked, the Eagle pub “not far from London”, but not the precise location. Still, we can deduce it: Tamworth Road, Croydon. Croydon is in what Michael Jackson called transpontine London, the south part. It was and is a busy place, a business hive of Greater London.

We know it was Croydon because she is pictured there in a short newsreel on youtube. She looks very cheerful and expert, it’s not hard to see why she did well in the business. Here, she draws a Whitbread Tankard bitter (pressure dispense) and does it like a pro indeed, hi watt smile in full evidence.

The announcer mentioned her age, 27, so at 75 she may still be living, presumably in well-earned retirement. If she is still with us, one wonders what she thinks of pubs today and today’s fashions in beers and drinks. Her recollections of pubs and the “chaffing” culture in vogue then would be interesting to hear.

Chaff is a term new to us, evidently different from chav and chuffed – it means to tease or speak with someone in a joshing or jocular way.

They still chaff in England, yah?

As to the Eagle itself, the building still stands but the invaluable Beer in the Evening site reports it closed in 2010 and is used now as community centre. Judging by readers’ comments between 2004 and closing date, the pub was on the slide in the last years: the sad but frequent denouement of a once-vibrant bar or restaurant.

The bottles behind the bar in the newsreel are Whitbread Pale Ale and Whitbread is the advertised name in the first image above of the Eagle in its prime. Hence the thought it was Whitbread who organized the competition Margaret won. See this picture of Margaret in 1968 standing behind the Whitbread handpumps.

Note re images: the first image above was sourced from this trolley bus history site, here. The second image was sourced from the Beer in Evening site linked in the text. Images appear herein for educational and historical purposes. All intellectual property in the sources resides solely in their lawful owner, as applicable. All feedback welcomed.