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

Churchman Peacock Speaks

On October 15, 1938 this letter appeared in The West Middlesex Gazette:

CURE FOR SUBURBAN NEUROSIS

Inns on Continental Beer Garden Lines

Sir.—The Vicar of Cranford, who declares that more inns on the new housing estates would prove a cure for suburban boredom, seems to hit the nail bravely on the head. One asks oneself, however, what kind of an inn could be at once a cure and a success? Certainly not the type of English public house which definitely belongs to yesterday, and where children are not admitted and ladies are rare visitors.

The ideal inn has great possibilities, and on a new housing estate we have the foundation stone of a real achievement, if the right people can be found to face the problem with coolness, confidence, determination and hope.

An inn on the lines of the Continental beer-garden comes to one’s mind, and there is no reason why such a place of innocent charm and simple pleasure could not be established in this country. In the summer the local worthies, with their families, foregather in the evenings to drink beer or lemonade, to dance or listen to good music. If it is cold or raining they go into the large hall inside.

The effect these beer-gardens produce is an immediate response to life. A delight in sharing other people’s lives and pleasures. We feel we have walked into an unexpected country just as Alice walked through the looking-glass into a land of surprise and joy.

I am convinced that an inn of this type would cure “suburban neurosis” by its warmth and glow, and for every man, woman and child it would be a place where life grows and expands.—

Yours, etc.,

W. M. PEACOCK,

King Alfred’s School, Wantage, Berks.,

October 10, 1938.

The letter appeared, similarly as for Vicar Child’s letter, in numerous newspapers including the Daily Mirror, which printed a lapidary endorsement (October 13, 1938):

We so heartily agree that we just don’t care to add a word to Canon Peacock’s.

In the original letter Peacock mentioned his affiliation with the old-established secondary (boys’) school, King Alfred’s School, of which in fact he was headmaster.

Today after merger with two other schools it is King Alfred’s Academy, co-educational and no longer fee-based.

Peacock was also an Anglican priest. These points are brought out in a photo-rich July 27, 1938 spread in the Daily Mirror, “Canon Stagemanages His Dancing Daughters”:

Most unusual pillar of the Church is Canon Peacock, headmaster of King Alfred’s School, Wantage, Berks.

He’s stage-managing his daughters, on their theatrical tour of German beer gardens and cabarets. Mrs. Canon Peacock is going to stage-manage all of them!

It comes about this way:- both girls, Unity, aged nineteen, and June (known as Rufus), aged eleven, are keen dancers. But they cannot give their double act in this country because June is too young.

You see the Canon adjusting Unity’s Tyrolean costume in the big picture, and in the smaller picture (below), the girls are dancing to music provided by boys of their father’s school.

The girls will first appear on the Rhine, and then, perhaps, in Poland. This may be the last amateur appearance of Rufus… she’ll soon be twelve, then film contracts are waiting.

 

 

The large photo shows the Canon in black cassock with his daughters who are costumed as the story notes.

According to the Kensington News and West London Times, August 5, 1938, his daughters performed during the tour in the beer garden at “Rhondorf-am-Rhine” on the “tree-covered slopes of the Drachenfels” (see additional note in Comments).

Peacock and Beer Gardens

In arguing for a German beer garden model at least during English summers, we can recognize a similar theme of some American anti-Prohibitionists before and during Prohibition. In Britain as well militating for such reformed pub goes back to at least the early 1900s.

In America, voices even in the brewing and wine industries argued for a new type of saloon. It would be family-oriented and beverages, apart non-alcohol drinks, would be beer of moderate strength and “light wines”, à la European café.

In my 2016 post “The Pub of the Future” I cited an example of this thinking from 1911, advocated by Max Henius, an American brewing consultant of Danish origin.

The proponents perhaps idealized the café – it is not as if alcoholism was absent from French and German societies, for example – but the image resonated well in the Anglosphere, then.

We may further note that just as it appears Vicar Child’s benign view of the modern pub followed on his liberal and worldly outlook, so it appears additional factors explained Peacock’s interest, at least initially.

The Leeds Mercury reported on August 3, 1938 that his German tour excited some controversy:

CANON AND HIS DANCING DAUGHTERS

A Defence of Beer Gardens

From Our Correspondent

WANTAGE, Tuesday

NUMEROUS LETTERS, some critical, some commendatory, have been received by Canon W. M. Peacock, head master of King Alfred’s School, Wantage (Berks) after the announcement that he would allow his daughters—Unity, aged 18, and June Mary, 11, to dance in a German beer-garden while on holiday in the Rhineland.

Canon Peacock said to-day that the critical letters seemed to demand some explanation why his daughters were dancing in a beer-garden.

“Actually the question is a little difficult to answer because, when you are still in England, England seems the only place on the map and German beer-gardens beyond the pale, but once on the Continent, England is suddenly very far away.

“Apparently the writers of the letters have had little opportunity of knowing any country but their own, so any place out of England is foreign them —mysterious, queer, wicked. They cannot picture a beer-garden as it really is—an open-air place of innocent amusement, where the local worthies foregather in the evening with their families. It sounds like a place of vice and temptation.

“Live more freely and widely, be citizens of the world, is my advice to all those who have these left-on-the-shelf ideas. I believe that if we all danced in beer-gardens (which, alas, for most of us, is a physical impossibility) fear, distrust and cowardice would disappear between nation and nation.”

It remains true people often act from mixed motives. One can view it that but for being motivated to advance his daughters’ careers, Peacock would not have toured Germany, and would not have perceived the advantages, as he viewed them, of the beer garden system.

Peacock After The Thirties

From news reports in the same British Newspaper Archive whence these stories are drawn, it seems he ended his career in 1959 as Chaplain of University of Reading, some 30 miles to the west of Wantage.

(More technically, he was Warden of St. Augustine House).

He seems not to have taken an interest in pub design and methods after the 1930s. Similarly for Vicar Maurice Child.

Peacock, for his part, lived long enough to see the council estate pub become a reality if not in the German beer garden form, specifically.

Pub Garden, Beer Garden

Few “estate locals”, as they became known, contained gardens according to Michael Sargant’s and Tony Lyle’s (1994) Successful Pubs and Inns, see here.

Anyway, the typical English pub garden is a smallish plot that bears little connection to the German conception.*

That said, Peacock’s voice and the publicity his German tour generated amplified Vicar Child’s message. Both contributed to the positive image of the “reformed pub”, in the interwar formulation.

Inevitably, the proliferation of estate locals after 1950 owed something to these churchmen. Unusually for their vocation certainly, they upheld the role of the public house, an old but not always admired social institution.

Observation

None of the letters and stories I found on Peacock’s tour with his family mentioned that Germany was a Nazi dictatorship, or the perfervid persecution of Jews.

The people running Germany then, who would bring Europe into another ruinous war and destroy two-thirds of European Jewry, didn’t “dance in beer gardens” in Peacock’s hopeful phrase, or not with the result he hoped.**

Looking back from our perspective today, there is a Pollyanna quality to all this coverage.

Canon Peacock noted a certain insularity in English life of the period, but I would argue he was not completely exempt from it himself, even after his trip down the Rhine.***

See the concluding Part IV.

*The Campaign for Real Ale, a consumer beer lobby, has organized large-scale events in the last 50 years that resemble to a degree the beer garden experience.

**As well-known, Nazism in part originated in a beer hall, a related form.

***Some additional biographical information on Canon Peacock, gleaned from the Reading Standard and other press archived at British Newspaper Archive: Born in 1891 he issued from a family of soldiers, scholars, and clergy. His education included Marlborough and Jesus College, Cambridge. He qualified as a deacon and priest before the Great War. He served in the British Army in both world wars with rank of Captain. His position at Wantage ended in 1949 after 17 years at King Alfred’s. Earlier he held teaching posts in Lagos, Nigeria, where he was also canon of Christ Church Cathedral, and prior to that, at Collyers School, Horsham, and elsewhere in England. He and his wife upon leaving Reading in 1959 took up residence in Sussex, presumably in retirement.

5 thoughts on “British Clerics Boost the Public House,1938. Part III.”

  1. A lot of UK pub gardens were greatly improved during the COVID ‘partial lock-down’ period when drinking was permitted outside but not indoors. Additional tables, benches and part-covered areas suddenly appeared, often on former car parks. It remains to be seen whether this expansion of the outdoor drinking culture here becomes permanent.

    Reply
  2. I’d be curious if beer-related words were de-Germanized in England as it became increasingly apparent where the fascists were headed.

    I’m glad that today the beer garden concept is largely free from such connotations — I think they are more fun than the traditional pub. It’s not completely clear to me why England seems much less interested in the open air drinking and dining model than Germany or for that matter a lot of parts of France, Spain, Italy and elsewhere in Europe.

    I realize England has a lot of rain, but the temperatures are also milder than a lot of Southern Europe. And England still has a lot of beautiful long summer nights when sitting around with a few other couples while the kids run around and eat chips would be wonderful.

    Reply
    • My sense of it all is, a little sanitising occurred, e.g. in the stories I reference sometimes the beer garden, for which Germany was main model, is called “Continental”. The rise of fascism was not the only reason, an antipathy to Germany existed well before, in part due to WW I.

      But the term lager was always used, no euphemism ever emerged, until finally the term lost all foreign connotation of course.

      I agree it seems odd Britain did not adopt widespread outdoor drinking. Northern Europe in many places had beer gardens or equivalent, eg Denmark (where Henius was from), where climate is comparable or “worse”, but UK didn’t follow despite the Anglo-Saxon and Viking heritage.

      Maybe religion played a more prominent role in quelling that tendency. Maybe too the class structure, that each class should be shut in its corner so to speak doing its thing vs. everyone out in the open, had an impact.

      By definition the beer garden implies a certain level of social democracy.

      Hard to say, would be interested to hear from UK readers, but I don’t often hear from them.

      Reply
  3. While aside the point even for a footnote, I might add here that perhaps Canon Peacock was charmed by this gasthaus in Rhoendorf, Rhoendorfer Gasthaus. The terrace and views indeed seem attractive, and he would have visited at height of summer. If not this hotel the site must have been nearby.

    Reply

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