British Clerics Boost the Public House, 1938. Part IV (Final Part).

Introduction

While the letters of Vicar Child and Canon Peacock covered in the earlier Parts were forcefully expressed, especially Peacock with his happy talk of citizens dancing in a projected British beer garden, we should recall the broader background.

A reformed tavern had been bruited in the Anglosphere since the late 1800s. Those even a little familiar with the territory know for example of the coffee pubs, Gothenburg pubs, the Birmingham Experiment, Carlisle Experiment, and periodic reforming licensing legislation, all preceding the 1930s.

Scholars and other writers, through the 20th century until now, have examined swaths of these areas. Names include P. Jennings, D. Gutzke, D. Woodman, T. Knowles, Michael Jackson, and Boak & Bailey, among many others.

As I stated earlier too, my recent posts do not set out any systematic history pertaining to the estate local, or the “improved” pub as such.

And not every remark here is categorical. Some English pubs in the 1930s, for example, advertised a beer garden or a specifically Continental one.

An advert in the Birmingham Gazette, June 7, 1939, touted the:

…CONTINENTAL BEER GARDEN… the FINEST GARDEN attached to any Licensed House in the Midlands. Spacious accommodation for good-class Motor Coaches,

THE GEORGE IN THE TREE,

STONEBRIDGE, KENILWORTH ROAD,

(The pub is still an item in Berkswell. In the “Beefeater” group, it advertises “a large outdoor space with benches”. An enduring outlier, it seems. Note the term “large”).*

But the broad lines are clear. The estate local did develop good traction, after World War II, although contrary to the hope of Peacock, the German-style drinking place did not replace the enclosed, often still partitioned British pub. The latter remained the template for the drinking places of Albion, Wales, and Scotland.

What I have done, certainly, is unearth specific and I believe novel instances from the 1930s where the pub future was commented on, by these two clerics and persons responding to them.

These episodes amount to interesting, often striking social history. They assist us to understand the historical flow, diverse as the pub has always been.

With this prelude, we can examine some further reaction to the positions expressed in the press by Vicar Child and Canon Peacock.

Unnamed Critics of Canon Peacock

The North Wiltshire Herald, August 19, 1938 contained an unsigned column stating that Peacock received a “shoal” of letters critical of his plan to allow his daughters, aged 18 and 11, to dance in German drinking places.

The columnist expressed support for the family, noting for example that the younger was not permitted to take professional work in England until age 12, and the children had done charity work.

Some who sent the letters probably objected therefore to building pubs in a housing development, which after all is a family setting par excellence. Today children generally can be admitted to pubs, subject to various licensing exceptions.

A Social Worker’s Perspective

On September 30, 1938 in the Bradford Observer, this letter appeared by a London-based official with the National Council of Social Service:

COMMUNITY CENTRES

Sir.—I was very interested to read the letter to you from the Rev. Maurice Child on the “Church and Inn as Social Centre” and as a cure for “suburban neurosis.”

I would, of course, be the first to admit that the “improved ” inn is a more desirable place than the previous type of public-house, but there is one sentence in his letter which considerably surprises me. He says that ” …in default of a church, the improved inn, with its fine meeting hall and Its central position, could not be bettered.” I wonder if Mr. Child has heard of the community centres which are springing up on new housing estates in different parts of the country? They cannot provide a substitute for churches, though until the latter are built the community centres, often themselves temporary buildings, frequently house religious services, and the community associations who use the centres are working in close co-operation with the churches on their estates.

Again, the community centre, which can cater for a very much greater variety of interests than the public house, does not attempt to compete with the latter. It does provide a home for the various groups of residents, young as well as old, women and girls as well as men, who come as strangers to the new districts and strangers to one another. The community centre, therefore, in a different way from both church and public-house, Is designed to produce that strong sense of neighbourliness and communal interest to which Mr. Child refers, and which will in the long run turn the conglomerations which form the new estates into new neighbourhoods.

C. SANDFORD CARTER

(Assistant Secretary, National Council of Social Service),

London.

This was a salutary response, not directly attacking the idea of pubs on estates, but perhaps indirectly so by stressing the importance of (necessarily secular) community centres.

These in fact would prove important to the future of council estates, although many pubs were built too.

The National Council was a voluntary organization, especially devoted to parrying unemployment, but Government worked closely with it. See e.g. this 1932 exchange in Parliament.

Thus we see the technocrat, or that perspective, standing against an older authority in society. The former was in ascension, the latter still respected but declining.

Citizen Clare

In the Shields Daily News, October 15, 1938, this letter appeared:

Beer Gardens

I WAS very pleased to read the letter of Canon Peacock’s in The Evening News on the advantages of the continental compared with the meagre services of our English public houses. I have for the last 40 years been actively engaged in singing the praises of the continental system, and at last there appears on the horizon the indication that at long last a more appropriate service is approaching in place of the ordinary and ineffective public house.

The need for a more up-to-date social centre, where people can meet in social intercourse—especially in these days of suburban exclusiveness —is, in my opinion, one of the essential necessities of present-day conditions. After having witnessed the superior service of the continental cafe one wonders why our people have been denied this pleasure. One can only conclude that bigotry has and is playing a prominent part in the resistance to such an wholesome and desirable innovation.

I suspect that the more frequent visits of our people to the continent has gradually educated those who travel and know something of the social life of the continent, the result being that there is fermenting in their minds a disposition to emulate the system there. The catholic atmosphere which prevails, with its absence of rowdyism and vulgarity, serves as a reminder that where such service prevails, the need for the imposition of restrictions is entirely superfluous; its very merits is its best protection. I have always associated drunkenness with low and dingy bars, sordid surroundings and noisy gatherings. On the contrary, these hotels, distinguished for their elegance and cleanliness are invariably noted for their decent and attractive character.

And this is what takes place on the continent, the result being that a better moral standard of manners is attained. Often enough I have been told by my friends that they would have no objection to the adoption of such a system if it could be emulated here. I have often been told that owing to our climate it would be impossible to adopt it to our social conditions, but the example of more northerly countries like Sweden and Norway renders such arguments useless. Besides it ought to be understood that a cafe need not be confined to indoors [sic], as is seen everywhere on the continent, a great number of them being established within the building. In winter this practice is generally observed, the service outdoors being entirely suspended. This outdoor drinking, it must be admitted, is far more sanitary than the practice with us. Even on this ground, it should be more liberally considered than it is by us.

Again, it must be recognised that the spirit of the cafe is far more democratic than what prevails in our public houses, its patrons being treated in the most impartial manner. There are no distinctions of paying a little extra for presumably a more respectable section of the building. Such an attitude is regarded as being undemocratic and selfish. It is tantamount to saying that as I am wealthier than you I am therefore going to indulge my tastes in the most private and expensive manner. Our English drinkers have yet to learn the implications of the extra halfpenny a glass. It is a snobbish custom and ought to be abolished. Finally, one cannot help appraising the value of an institution which serves to keep the family together. I know of no pleasanter scene than that of a family and their relatives meeting in the familiar cafe and there relating all the doings of the past week, while the strains of music serve to make the meeting still more entertaining. How different with us with our dull monotony, and aimless parading. It is because of my admiration for the cafe system that I rejoice to hear the favourable testimonies of such distinguished churchmen as Canon Peacock and the Vicar of Cranford.

J. Clare,

7 Clovelly Avenue

Newcastle-on-Tyne.

While again I feel the depiction of continental drinking is idealized, valid points are raised.

A noteworthy part is the objection to partitioned drinking where different prices were paid. We saw in my preceding series on London journalist Alan Tomkins that such class segmentation was starting to break down under pressures of wartime living.

On a further occasion Clare, identified more clearly as Jas. Clare, wrote a similar letter in defense of Vicar Child’s letter, in the Shields Daily News, September 12, 1938.

In that letter he does not refer to Continental ways, which Canon Peacock had stressed, but a new “liberal social order” and the importance that a minority of teetotallers not impose their will on the majority.

He invoked good old Dr. Johnson’s famous dictum on the importance of taverns in English life. Clare thought modern “hotels” could replace “squalid sawdust bars” on new estates with great advantage to help dispel suburban ennui.

In checking on him in the British News Archive, whence these press stories issue, it appears he was a (presumably professional) lecturer for decades in Newcastle, but what other activities he engaged in I do not know.

A description of a lecture on Germany, in 1932 (Shields Daily News, November 9) stated he visited the country 53 times!

Possibly he was a church minister in early years, c. 1900, some press references suggest this.

More than one letter to the editor from him, in the 1920s and 30s, advocated against any form of prohibition, and invoked, as did the letter reproduced above, the bar trade in France and Germany as a model for Britain.

Last Words

People such as Glare and Tomkins were on the right side of history. So were Child and Peacock, although Child’s hope that tavern and temple would form a twain on new estates, mimicking their roles in the Arcadian English village, would not be realized.

Even when he was writing, public observance, speaking here of Christianity, was in serious decline.

On October 13, 1938 Patrick Bond in the Sheffield Independent described a new housing estate at Gleadless. He wrote that people were most content with their new homes, and enjoyed the local community centre, the type C. Sandford Carter explained.

It was still a hut but a proper building was planned. A nearby recreation centre provided further social benefits but as to church, the local vicar interviewed said only one in 50 of the parish attended Sunday morning services – it fell to 1/150 for evensong.

People in the estate were quoted that the average person was more interested in material things, and viewed observance as declining. It has been so ever since, to my knowledge, speaking again of the Christian churches.

A separate article on the page, but clearly meant to be read in conjunction with Patrick Bond’s, quoted the secretary of the Sheffield Brewers’ Association, E. Gandy, on Canon Peacock’s plan to encourage German-style beer gardens.

He approved in principle, but interestingly, thought it mightn’t work since lager was weaker than British beer, and women could not drink the latter all evening as they could lager in Europe:

“Continental beer is generally no stronger than English lager”, he said, “and women who can sit drinking it in continental beer gardens for an evening would certainly not be able to drink English beer for a similar period.”

I don’t think he was right on that, on the strength aspect, unless any lager brewed in Sheffield then happened to be weaker than standard mild and bitter ale.

(Interesting as that point is, it is aside my preoccupations in this series).

Note: Full series (four parts) is indexed here.

*An item in the Daily Mail, July 19, 1927, so prior to Canon Peacock’s letter, mentions that a “‘Continental’ beer garden” opened in Denton, Lancashire, and “is proving a success”. “It adjoins an ordinary old English inn, and consists of a lawn dotted all over with green benches, tables, and large coloured umbrellas to keep off the sun”. Even in their nascent Biergärten the English were shy of the sun! I’ll leave to others to explicate that sociology.

2 thoughts on “British Clerics Boost the Public House, 1938. Part IV (Final Part).”

  1. A very interesting read Gary. Peacock reminds me a bit of quaker Ebenezer Howard who masterminded Letchworth Garden City – although he was encouraging people away from the booze rather than to it. Peacock comes across as a bit of a social engineer which Brits, I think, are wary of. I don’t know much about how German beer gardens started, but I’m assuming it was more organic. Another thought I had reading your post is how the past two years of lockdowns may have shifted British pub culture with regards to outside. For a while, only outdoor service was allowed meaning the pubs that had gardens doubled their size (or at least increased as much as they could – usually into the car park). Many of us didn’t feel right not ordering at the bar, but this bitter pill was generally swallowed. It will be interesting to see whether these increased beer gardens are here for good along with more customers sitting, or whether it’s just a blip.

    Reply
    • Thanks Alec, all helpful to know, very interesting.

      I did think Peacock’s formulations in that letter were very interesting, one knows what he means, but I would never think to put it that way. Some of it does sound like a minister, I must say!

      Thx again.

      Gary

      Reply

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