“English-Type Public House or Scottish Bar?”

Some Granite City Pub History*

In the Aberdeen Evening Press, October 21, 1954, a letter-writer supported a licensing body’s rejection of a pub for Aberdeen’s new Northfield housing estate.

Starting in 1950, Northfield opened for housing, an early sign of the postwar suburban boom that echoed through Britain. The area of Aberdeen had long been known for a quarry bearing the interesting name Dancing Cairns.

Homes sprung up on one side of the stony gap welcoming army veterans, ex-war workers, and others avid to build the new Britain.

The writer, signing anonymously, was direct:

[This is] … not because I think there anything inherently wrong with pubs, but because there is something far wrong with drinking habits in Scotland. In England few people would object to a pub on a housing estate. The pub, along with the church, is the amenity to be provided. That is because the average Englishman drinks beer and sticks to it—and in moderation, too. The Scot on the other hand will mix whisky with his beer. On Saturday night after closing time there are always some noisy drunks on the street. No wonder people want pubs to be kept out of residential areas.— Sassenach.

(Press references are via British Newspaper Archive except as otherwise noted).

A subtext here is, the pub had been planned on English lines, the type known south of the border on burgeoning housing estates. These were welcoming to both women and men and in some cases, families.

The Scottish bar, in contrast, traditionally was a different animal, with some exceptions in large cities: male-oriented, with few amenities, geared as much to spirits as to beer.

In a word, the two types were long regarded as separate, with occasional mixing and matching.

(Peter Alexander, who writes on beer and pubs from his English base commented recently on this historic difference in a quote included in my post, “The Scotia Bar, Aberdeen”).

In the same newspaper on December 3, 1952, when the plan to build a Northfield pub was still alive, the paper did “man in the street” interviews to see if locals approved.

This question was put to them:

Which do you prefer—the English-type public-house or the Scottish bar?

Two men and two women were queried, middle-aged by their photos. The women objected to a pub. One said it would encourage women and young girls to enter pubs and drink and bars should not be turned into “places of recreation”.

The other woman thought if people want to do a singalong around the piano they should do it at home where it belongs, and, “Scottish bars should be left as they are”.

One of the men thought a pub should welcome a man and woman for an evening of entertainment, not just drinking. The other man felt a family room would be useful, with someone to mind the children while the parents entered the bar.

It was a small sample but clearly split on gender lines.

So by the end of 1954, still no pub. This did not dissuade George Bremner, rendered as George Brebner in some accounts, who had acquired land in Northfield to build a pub and made continual efforts to obtain municipal approval.

Finally, April 20, 1956 the Evening Express reported his success:

GO-AHEAD FOR PUB AT NORTHFIELD.

Mr George Bremner, the Aberdeen man who proposes to build a public house at Marchburn Drive, Northfield, received the final go-ahead from Aberdeen Licensing Appeal Court this afternoon. His application, which was granted by the Licensing Court in March, was confirmed unanimously.

The pub as built became known as the Dancing Cairns. It seemed to operate to general satisfaction in the early years, but in a lengthy report on August 30, 1961 the Evening Express reported fights, ribald singing and general disorder.

Bremner was continually seeking, as normal for any business, to expand his pub but as it grew, these other problems seemed to increase. A local even objected to its yellow paint scheme, too glaring to view from his household window.

Nonetheless the pub continued to trade, into the next decade. At some point it appears it became affiliated with Scottish and Newcastle Brewery.

The pub was remembered in an article dated  April 27, 2021 in Aberdeen’s The Press and Journal by Kirstie Waterston. She told of the years ensuing, and how the pub was loved by many despite its rowdy reputation.

Perhaps this points up a part of Scottish bar-keeping that resisted English gentrification. Or maybe it attests to keeping bar almost anywhere, given enough time and change of circumstances. The great beer writer Michel Jackson (1942-2007) once wrote that “beer-drinking is a robust activity” .

So it is and always will be, for many. Despite the best efforts of the regulators and modern  hipsters, one can’t quite efface this from the drinking scene.

The Dancing Cairn was pulled down, finally, about 30 years ago. A different sort of amenity exists on the site now, a care home.

In the Aberdeen press of recent years there are a surprising (I thought) number of articles on pubs of the 70s, 80s, and 90s. Whatever misgivings there were 70 years ago about extending the bar in Scottish life seem to have gone with the wind.

Pubs that came to life in the new Britain, in some cases under controversy, are fondly remembered by many, once no more.

*”Granite City” is an old nickname for Aberdeen, Scotland.

 

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