All Together Now – the Cornwallis in ’58

A 1958 BBC television documentary, The More we are Together, investigated family life and work in East London. The locale was Bethnal Green. Johnny and his family were profiled with other families and personages.

Johnny worked at Billingsgate Market, apparently as a porter. The subjects are depicted as salt of the earth: self-reliant, tough, philosophical – a stance no doubt influenced by periodic war and the Depression earlier in the century.

Still, by the year shown work was regular and wages enabled family life with enough left over for a seaside holiday, regular pub visits, and other diversions. Golf and football were popular among men, for example.

The pub shown was the Marquis of Cornwallis, which still goes strong on Bethnal Green Road. Parenthesis: Beeretseq is pretty sure he has been there, mulling the meaning of the London “light and bitter” with a late afternoon regular.

Beeretseq disagreed with his interlocutor on its composition but kept his counsel out of courtesy as a visitor.

Two scenes in the documentary bear on the Cornwallis, or rather three. First is a darts game, in which the participants take an intense interest. Darts was a passion for Johnny, who participated in regular league play.

Many outside Britain grew up with a stereotypical image of darts in the pub. Judging by this film the reality was quite patent, at least at that time in that place.

A further scene in the pub shows musical entertainment on what must have been a weekend night, as the crowd is mixed. Men are shown arriving first with friends, while their wives follow afterwards, also in a group.

The narrator explains this is an age-old practice, surely by the boards today. Two seeming regulars are pressed to sing a duet. They feign hesitation for what must have been the 1000th time, but then readily take the mic (not the mick!).

They croon along to jangly piano accompaniment, probably by another pub regular. The patrons’ rapt gazes attest to their enjoyment of the show.

My post “A Block in St. John’s Wood” described, via the lens of a wartime reporter, the London pub in 1944. Comparing it to 1958, it seems little has changed. Both seemed pacific, friendly resorts, the drinks not by appearances inflaming anyone.*

Things would change in the 1960s as pub life became more organized by their brewery owners. Pubs were increasingly “themed” and, to keep with British idiom, “tarted up” to attract a wider audience.

The bar changed as well, with the introduction of gaudily advertised “keg beer”, a gassy simulacrum of good old English beer. Lager too became more visible in the English pub, previously enjoying little purchase.**

1958 was a bit early for such refinements, and we see the London pub I think as it must have been for 100 years at least, in a swath of metropolis anyway.

Johnny’s wife supplied the third perspective on the pub, commenting on her husband’s regular patronage, something that evidently discomfited her.

Johnny’s replique, or so I took it, was he covered the extra expense by taking odd jobs to earn “an extra pound”.  He noted that unlike officer workers in the class he had no aspirations to, he wasn’t shy to earn extra money in different ways.

As to the beer – a dimension we never forget – readers practiced at the art of deciphering period beer images can guess which were served. One can see a Truman’s sign, so some beer bubbling in the glasses must have been from the Dickensian pile that was Truman’s, still steaming away in East London then.

The beers are different hues, so likely mild ale, stout, pale ale, and brown ale. Lager too? Hard to say, but a table compiled by Ron Pattinson of 1950s Truman beers disclosed not a single one.

This link at the Pub Wiki shows the Marquis of Cornwallis today. It still advertises live music and sports although the genres of each would have changed with the generations. Everything does, finally.

For anyone who knows the English pub in any period, and is of reflective temperament, the Cornwallis scenes are of good interest – as is the BBC film in general.

*The Marquis of Cornwallis was apparently frequented by members of the infamous Kray clan, but this dimension of East End life is not mentioned.

**Relatively, that is. I have chronicled parts of this story earlier.




2 thoughts on “All Together Now – the Cornwallis in ’58”

  1. That is quite an extraordinary little film, thanks. I was struck by how, even though they are of limited means, everyone dressed to the hilt for an outing to the pub.

    Speaking of the Krays and the rougher side of the East End in the period, I recommend the documentary “The Guv’nor”, which can be found on Amazon Prime. But be advised it contains a few scenes of extreme violence, so it is not for the faint of heart.

    • Thanks for this. I know the name and their infamy but little more on their account.

      Good point about dressing well, we’ve lost something there surely.



Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: