British India Greets the English Pub. Part I.

One of the most interesting sowings of the English pub on foreign turf was in British India in late 1945. Surprising too, because after all, India was well-ploughed territory for beer houses.

The British had established breweries since the mid-1800s which finally took a large part of the market from UK imports. Army consumption dominated with the rest civilian, mostly European in that period.

With lots of beer in the country there had to be places to drink it. And there were, especially army canteens, managed in the 20th century by a string of centralized canteen organizations (see details in a Wikipedia entry).

And outside the canteens? Clubs, hotels, dance halls, and what were called taverns. Taverns, vs. say the palm toddy bar, were mostly the preserve of Europeans. These varied, as everything, in gradation. All the major cities harboured them.

The lower end were sometimes called punch-houses, but the term drops out after about 1850, by my survey.

A full-length book memorialized these taverns, sometimes called loosely hotels, see Major H. Hobb’s John Barleycorn Bahadur: Old Time Taverns in India (1944).*

Still, in 1945 something special visited the India pub scene, as reported in Hull’s The Daily Mail, November 7, 1945 (via British Newspaper Archive):

 

ENGLISH PUB FOR TROOPS IN INDIA.

Built by Cottingham Expert.

Hundreds of British troops at Avadi, near Madras, India, stream every evening into the first public-house ever built on Indian soil. It is a complete replica of an English country pub—thatched roof, half-timbering and heavy oak doors.

At dusk, lights gleam through the windows, and a notice over the door reads that the pub is kept by T. H. Loseby, who is licensed to sell beer, spirits and tobacco “to be consumed on the premises”!

A homely atmosphere permeates the place—homely talk, laughter, tobacco smoke, and the smell of beer. By the side of the old-fashioned fireplaces, oaken settles are set into the walls. Chairs and tables are tastefully set out on the clean flagged floor. There is a special nook in one room set aside for dart players. Behind the bar stands the landlord C.F.N. T. H. Loseby, of Syston, Leicestershire.

In civil life he was an assistant at the Fox and Hounds Hotel there. He now spends his evenings serving beer and bread and cheese and pickles and has always a cheery word for his customers. The Wade Inn, as it is known, is named after the local area commander, Major-General Wade. It was built by R. D. Herbert, Royal Engineers, of Evergreen, Thwaite-st., Cottingham, who in civil life specialised in the construction of houses of Tudor design.

The Tommies say that in this setting Bangalore beer tastes almost like good old Blighty beer. Two units stationed nearby send the whole of their beer allotment to the Wade Inn so that they and their friends can drink it in appropriate surroundings.

A brewery in Bangalore, long-established by then, was part of a group assembled in 1915 by the entrepreneur Thomas Leishman, the still-dominant United Breweries. What type of beer was made is not clear. Muree Brewery at Rawalpindi was making lager in 1946, see advert in Civil & Military Gazette (Lahore), January 6, 1946, for Gold Ribbon Lager.

 

(Source of image: Wikipedia, at this link).

Whether ale or lager was made in Bangalore, it seems a difference was detected from English beer, but not disliked for that.

Note how the writer states “first public-house ever built on Indian soil”. Of course, literally that was not so. Equivalents had longed functioned in India, since the 1700s at least, as Hobbs’ book and other sources show. Many were named in the British manner, the Royal Oak in Bombay, for example, a seaman’s pub.**

What was meant, surely, was the simulacrum: the copying of English details to make it look as of home. That is a suitably late development. British rule was waning, and what typified British India earlier didn’t seem British enough; a more patent symbol was needed.

There was an evident punning on “Wade Inn” which either escaped the journalist or more likely was felt unsuitable for broadsheet commentary in the 1940s.

Avadi still houses a military establishment, Indian of course today – and lots of pubs, some named to suggest an English connection. But the Wade Inn seems long gone. At least, I couldn’t find a trace.***

I continue with Part II.

*I read parts of this book, which was not, mainly, an enjoyable experience. Henry (Harry) Hobbs – “Major”, I glean, came from service with a Calcutta reserve force – wrote in a knowing, almost leering way. While one accustoms, with distaste, to occasional – not invariable – racial denigration in period accounts, often it manifests as a casual thing, not focused and repeated. He took pride in being an old Calcutta resident, and wrote numerous books considered useful social history today, but the tone regarding Indians and some others, the Jews especially, is often unpleasant and at times ugly.

Hobbs was an English piano tuner and occasional musician who emigrated in the late 1800s. In the course of a successful business career that extended to hotel work, he became an amateur historian and wrote numerous books and papers detailing the social history of the society he knew. He died at 92, in 1956, remaining in Calcutta to the end. For further bio on Hobbs, see the informative article by Devasis Chattopadhyay, “Harry Hobbs: Old Calcutta’s Beloved Chronicler”, published April 10, 2021 in Live History India.

**June 1, 1863, Bombay Gazette, a seaman is imprisoned for two months for throwing a marling-spike at another man in the Royal Oak. In her 2003 The City and Its Fragments: Colonial Bombay, 1854-1918, Preeti Chopra noted that many low-end taverns traded near the (Royal Alfred) Sailors’ Home in the port area (today a police headquarters). She states the latter was nearer to the European section than what was called Native City. I believe many of the taverns were in between.

***Thanks to Mark Shirley who pointed out on Twitter (@RFCider) that Army publican Loseby was from Syston, Leicestershire, not, as I originally wrote, Systop. Now mended. Mark blogs excellently on pubs, see his Twitter feed for more details.

 

2 thoughts on “British India Greets the English Pub. Part I.”

  1. “That is a suitably late development, in my estimation. British rule was waning, and what typified British India earlier didn’t seem British enough; a more patent symbol had to be built.”

    This is a great reminder of how evocative beer history can be of broader trends in history — they really were trying hard not to think about what was looming in 1948, were they? How many of us are prepared for what could be looming in a few years?

    Reply
    • Thanks, I do think that’s right, a deeper current than simple nostalgia was at work.

      I have another example in India, less obvious in some ways but perhaps a progenitor of the Wade Inn (or Wade Out!). It is from 1943. More soon.

      Perhaps I can add here, while I can’t say I have viewed examples of earlier taverns in India, vs. a few of the grander hotels, it seems none affected a specifically British – metropole – aspect, to the point of stone-for-stone, tile-for-tile recreation, before the Wade Inn that is. At least, I am not aware of any examples. The 1945 account seems to confirm this but the subject is admittedly large, and journalism is not always a safe guide to such long-range questions.

      As we know from popular beer history, what is “new” in the eyes of breathless journalists may well have featured a generation and more earlier. Golden ale forms an apt example in the U.K., one of hundreds.

      I suspect the India tavern bore an analogy to the Australian hotel (which encompassed a bar), the design of which varied depending on era and part of the country, but did not, afaik, seek to replicate specific examples British pub architecture. There have been numerous book-length examinations of the hotel there, usually by specific former colony, Victoria or South Australia, say.

      There too though generality may be dangerous. Certainly there have been general studies of colonial architecture for parts of South and East Asia that should be consulted. I have identified and even reviewed some of these, including academic articles. I may advert to some in future parts, but the expertise they reflect is beyond the scope of our studies here.

      For his part, Harry Hobbs in his book does not (that I found) comment on architectural features of his taverns and hotels. He is more concerned with the people who ran and patronized them, food and drink offered, and entertainment supplied.

      Notwithstanding the dilettante he was, architecture and design seemed not engage his attention.

      Reply

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