British Clerics Boost the Public House, 1938. Part I.

What Unites Cloth, Council, and Cask

In the inter-war period in Britain, specifically in England, a movement gathered among some ecclesiastics to boost the inn, odd as it may seem today.

Earlier, I discussed the case of the London-based social reformer Father Basil Jellicoe, active in the early 1930s. He was a striking example: a magnetic personality, high-strung, nervous with tension to explain his case.

He was ahead of his time in forecasting the pub as community centre for all, equally his call for landlords and staff to be properly trained for their work.

I included a rare Movietone clip from 1930 that showed the padre in full flow, bruiting his case in rounded, plummy prewar tones.

Other men of the cloth, late 1930s, argued a not dissimilar case. Their efforts, like Jellicoe’s, did not go unremarked, including by those less sanguine, although they never achieved the profile of Jellicoo, who enjoyed royal support.

Still, these other figures are notable historically, the more so for their obscurity today. They form part of the early history that spurred the creation notably of the council estate pub. Jellicoe’s pubs, by contrast, were still inner-city.

An estate pub was, still can be, a public house built as part of a municipal housing scheme. It descends from the “improved pub” movement of the 1920s and ’30s, which important segments of society, e.g., larger brewers, town planners, newspaper editors, got behind.

The new communities, suburban and exurban, first took form after World War I. By the 1930s progress was stunted due to depression and certainty a new war was coming.

After 1950 council estate building commenced in earnest, including the part incorporating a pub.

My purpose in this series, as shown too by some recent posts, is not a comprehensive examination of the origins of the estate pub. Scholars and other writers have addressed this area well.

Rather, I highlight particular instances of the history, amounting often to social history, both before and after World War II. This material previously has not been examined, to my knowledge.

Specifically, the series addresses points and personalities from the late 1930s, in the setting of the British church.

I emphasize that before 1939 the community pub was more a prospect than reality, as Boak & Bailey noted in their guest post in 2017 at Municipal Dreams. But it was coming, and clerical ranks played an undoubted role in the process.

Among these voices was Maurice Child (1884-1950), an Anglo-Catholic priest as Jellicoe was. In the period he was rector at St. Dunstan’s Church, Cranford, Middlesex.

Perhaps not inapt to notice, Child earned the title “Playboy of the Western Church”, as this sketch at Wikipedia shows,* but he was a prominent voice in the Church and his ideas were taken seriously.**

Vicar Child is part of the history of the modern estate pub, part of what made it happen.

His letter in The West Middlesex Gazette on September 17, 1938 sets the tone. In posts to come I will explain reaction, in and outside the church (via British Newspaper Archive), it elicited.



Cure For Suburban Neurosis



We have heard much during recent months of “suburban neurosis”, which many social workers will doubtless recognise as an extreme manifestation of the depression and boredom so often found among dwellers on the new housing and rehousing estates.

When one remembers that village life in the past was. at its best, fuller and therefore happier than life in some of the new estates appears to be, we may well look for the missing social factors, for the advantages which the village had and the modern housing estate has not. These factors. I suggest, are the church and the inn. For centuries village life revolved about these two institutions—complementary institutions, as many may think—with the result that a strong sense of neighbourliness and of communal interest was created. Many new estates, I believe, are destitute of either church or inn. Lack of funds prevents the building of a church: lack of comprehension. perhaps, by licensing magistrates of ordinary social needs keeps away the inn.

I would urge, therefore. that no housing estate should be considered complete without its church and inn and, further, that no housing estate need be without these institutions. The building of a new “improved” inn not only may go far to stimulate a fuller and a natural social life; it may also provide the Church with its first foothold in a new estate. I believe that already,  where the need of a temporary centre for services has arisen and where a suitable inn has existed, the owners or managers of the inn have given up halls or rooms for public worship. I have no doubt that this form of collaboration could be practised on a much larger scale, for there is not the stigma attaching to the “improved” inn, that clung to the squalid place for perpendicular drinking of the Victorian era. As a makeshift, in default of a Church, the “improved” inn, with its fine meeting hall and its central position, could not be bettered.

Here, to me at any rate, appears to be a practicable method of making both spiritual and social recreation easily available to the “suburban neurotic.” As a remedy for social ills, the church and inn together will be none the less effective for having served our people so successfully in the past.

Yours, etc.


Rector of Cranford.

Cranford St. John, Middlesex. September 5, 1938.

Part II follows.

*Wikipedia relies in good part, as referenced therein, on the 2009 Outposts of the Faith: Anglo-Catholicism in Some Rural Parishes by Michael Yelton. I will refer to the book directly in the next Part. 

**This does not mean he lacked critics, as I will discuss further soon.


2 thoughts on “British Clerics Boost the Public House, 1938. Part I.”

  1. Gary, this is good series on the pub as social fabric. I grew up in an Anglican rectory that was decidedly Low Church, but strangely I had High Church yearnings. Now I know why.

    Is this the quote you refer to?

    “There is nothing which has yet been contrived by man, by which so much happiness is produced as by a good tavern or inn.” — Samuel Johnson

    • Gary, thanks, yes that’s the famous quote there.

      Re adherence to High Church liturgy, etc., it’s not too late!

      You will pardon me for not joining you, but another creed has a prior claim, wayward as I’ve been. 🙂

      P.S. when you read these, please always go to website for the final version. I always mend the typos and smooth the style out. If you re-read just this Part I, you will see.


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