Old School

“Schools for Licensees and Barmaids”

“Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world”, wrote Percy Bysshe Shelley in his (1840) A Defence of Poetry. This profound statement can apply not just to poets as such but figures from many backgrounds who influence society in a permanent way.

It especially applies to promoting beliefs that are at odds with received ideas, but win acceptance over time.

In a three-part examination last year (it starts here) I examined the career of the English padre Basil Jellicoe. In our terms today he was a social justice advocate, active in the interwar period. He promoted the reform of public houses but unusually to say the least, under church auspices. One of his ideas was a “College for Publicans”.

Father Jellicoe envisioned, in other words, a school to teach pub landlords how to conduct responsibly their trade. As reported in 1929, he stated:

“We ought to make the publican’s profession great, noble and honorable,” says Mr Jellicoe. “I advocate the establishment of a publican’s college where men can be trained as social workers and subsequently, as first class publicans.”

In that period there was no organized system to train people how to run a pub. Jellicoe’s audacious plan was received with a range of reactions, from incredulity to mockery. A crude example is shown by an Australian cartoon of 1929 (via Trove Historical Newspapers as linked):

Father Jellicoe died young, in the 1930s, his plans mostly not realized. Two or three pubs were launched under his scheme but they did not meet financial expectations, and reverted essentially to a standard operating model.

Yet, only three years after World War II a 12-week course was being given in London to train prospective publicans and servers much as the padre envisioned.* It was described in Tit-Bits, a long-enduring general interest magazine regarded today as a forerunner to the Daily Mail and similar media.

The article was reprinted in the Australian press – ever on the alert for British pub ways as I discussed earlier in these pages.

The piece, published in 1948, shows that the training covered a surprising amount of ground. Visits to a pub and brewery were included. The writer, Trevor Allen, had a lapidary, rapid-fire style, humorous, even Dickens-like. Despite the levity he fully acknowledged the validity of the programme.

The course was offered by the Distributive Trades’ Technical Institute (DTTI) on Charing Cross Road. I understand today through a series of school mergers it is part of University of Arts London.

Describing the course, Allen tours an unnamed brewery in Mile End, probably Charrington & Co. He inspected bar and cellars at The Three Nuns pub in Aldgate. That pub was next to Aldgate Underground Station in a hotel and no longer exists: demolished in 1970s redevelopment.

Allen talks about beer glasses (regularly stolen!) and how draught beer is dispensed. He notes that brewers are producing fewer beer types than before the war, with spirits still short – in 1948. He is mildly discomfited not to get an actual drink during his visit but accepts with equanimity the prospect of a whisky tasting, to compare malt and grain types.

Based on his report it seems the DTTI syllabus covered pretty much what similar courses offer today, e.g. the brewer-sponsored PEAT scheme, and maybe more – a historical sketch of the pub, for example.

An example of Allen’s wit:

The [brewery] men, mostly young, have that confident, expansive look common to those intimately associated with beer (I’ve noted it on almost every face, passing through the brewery, and it makes me think of Falstaff, Merrie England and All That – even in the Mile End road). Then there are the women, all smart and alert – the ace bar-ladies of tomorrow. One I find, is already a manager’s wife – starting at the top and working down to the cellar. The lecturer – mellow, smiling, like a glass of clear ale in sun or lamplight – starts by knocking down all our illusions about ‘Drawn from the Wood’.

His envoi:

So now you have the layout. Twelve weeks of it – very earnest, scientific and helpful – and no heeltaps. Bill, the embryo-manager, bursting with data; Beattie the barmaid knowing a thing or two – as if barmaids didn’t, anyway!

An envoi of my own: Father Basil Jellicoe was such a legislator as Shelley had in mind, and he is remembered in Britain to this day.


*Sans of course a religious aspect.