British India Greets the English Pub. Part II.

Scope, Sources, Succeeding Parts

While I cannot say I have viewed examples (photos, illustrations) of early taverns in India, vs. a few of the grander hotels, it seems none affected a specifically British – metropole – aspect, not in the stone-for-stone, tile-for-tile manner of the Wade Inn in November 1945 (see Part I).

At least, I am not aware of any such examples. The press account for the Wade Inn 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 journalism may well have existed a generation or more before. “Golden ale” is an apt example in modern Britain. It is often said to hail from the 1980s but is far older, by that name or cognates.

I suspect India’s taverns bore an analogy to the Australian hotel (these always encompassed a bar, excepting temperance hotels). Designs varied depending on era and part of the country, but examples did not, as far as I know, seek to replicate British pub vernaculars.

The enduring image of the Aussie hotel is the rambling, slim-posted whitewash structure with broad verandah or balcony, but there were other styles as well. A good example of the first is seen at Trekearth (Great Western Hotel, 1898).

There have been numerous books and other studies of the Australian hotel, often by specific former colony, Victoria or South Australia, say. An engaging popular resource is the website Time Gents: Australian Pub Project.

Here too though generality may be dangerous. Certainly there have been formal studies of colonial architecture for Australasia and the Far East that should be consulted. I have identified some of these, including academic articles.

I mentioned in Part I a book by Professor Preeti Chopra, The City and Its Fragments: Colonial Bombay, 1854-1918 (2003). She authored more recently, among many other writings, A Joint Enterprise: Indian Elites and the Making of British Bombay (2011).

Dr. Chopra teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, see details of her work here. She argues in the two books mentioned for the hybrid nature of public architecture in some Indian cities, reflecting that is a degree of local participation, both for design and the people who did the work or financing, not previously appreciated.



Another excellent source is Maurizio Peleggi’s “The Social and Material Life of Colonial Hotels: Comfort Zones as Contact Zones in British Colombo and Singapore, ca. 1870-1930”, Journal of Social History, 2012 (OUP).

He includes observations pertaining to India and other parts of Southeast Asia and the South islands, and the list of references is valuable unto itself, as in Dr. Chopra’s books.

Dr. Peleggi makes the point that formal study of the hotels’ history is relatively recent, and all the more so – I’m sure he would agree – for taverns and pubs simpliciter. He is on the faculty of National University of Singapore.

I may advert to these studies in future parts, but all to say the subject is vast and not a little complex.

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



Dilettante that he was, architecture and design seemed not engage his fervid attentions.

In my own study of pre-World War II beer and drinking places in British Malaya, I did not encounter an instance of British pub replica, although the image was deployed well in interwar advertising.

An example is furnished by a 1923 advert for Bass Purple Triangle Light Export Ale, a filtered, lighter version of the more famous Bass Red Triangle (The Straits Times, June 23, 1923).

An image of rustic English public house is shown, with triangle-shaped, exterior sign depending, stating details for the beer.

In my next part, I will discuss a quasi-English pub in India, involving HM Forces again, in 1943. It is in my view a proto-Wade Inn, itself perhaps a forerunner of the English, later Irish pub-by-design sent around the world by canny entrepreneurs.

Yet the Wade Inn too, viewed in that light, was not quite first. Let’s remember the British Buttery at the 1939 New York World’s Fair.

And there was probably an earlier example, maybe at an international trade exhibition. I mean here, not just a pub outside the British Isles suggestive of some British or Irish character* – this after all dates back in North America to first settlement days – but a simulacrum, a save-the-cost-of-the-flight experience.

This seems relatively new, a postwar development, essentially. A milestone was the 1958 Britannia Pub at the Brussels World’s Fair, elucidated well by the British beer writers Boak & Bailey.

As to future parts in this series, one will be a tour of a late-19th century Indian brewery, to explain the kind of brew sent for dispense in hotels, taverns and army canteens. Down to gravity and body, I might add.

And after that, a notable example of the confrontation between seaman’s tavern and the local (native) community. The instance is rather striking in part due to an important ally the community had on the British side.

We continue with Part III.

Note re images: the first image, of Byculla Hotel in Bombay, was sourced at Wikipedia Commons. The second, of Great Eastern Hotel, Calcutta, was also sourced from Wikipedia Commons, here.  All intellectual property in both belongs solely to the lawful owner, as may apply. Used for educational and research purposes. All feedback welcomed.

*A good example is McSorley’s Old Ale House in New York.

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