Our good friend Gary Hodder in Toronto gave me this book for comments, and easy to oblige in view of its interest. Gary first visited Britain in the 1970s, well before I did, and I assume had this in his knapsack for the trip.
First issued in 1976, the one shown is a 1978 reprinting. The title sounds almost contrived, for humorous effect, but it was certainly real.
The book, in fact a series of regional pub guides, was sponsored by Miles Laboratories. Miles made the famous stomach and headache remedy, Alka-Seltzer. The copyright page assigns the rights to R.M. Smith, who must have had an arrangement with Miles Labs, perhaps to share sale proceeds.
The publisher was Bayard London, for whom Smith must have worked.
Despite the very British context here, Miles Laboratories was founded in the late 1800s by a Midwestern American surnamed Miles, a pharmacist. It implanted in Britain between the wars, as best I can tell, with a laboratory and offices in Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire.
Bayer of Germany bought Miles not long after this book appeared. The Stoke lab was closed in the 1980s but the site continued, and perhaps still, as a meeting place for Bayer personnel.
Smith, described as the book’s editor, states in the Introduction the book was compiled with the assistance of the pub landlords. Leafing through it, it seems evident how the series was done.
Smith likely sent a template to each landlord to complete, viz. the pub’s location and history, beers available, description of premises, and type of clientele.
The London borough system is used to organize the content. The individuality of each borough is stressed, less a factor today perhaps.
There is a short introduction for each borough, with places of interest, markets, churches, museums, famous people, and statues all noted.
The book is serious but even in tone. It isn’t jokey, nor does it treat beer with the studied gravity typical since the 1980s. The Campaign for Real Ale is briefly mentioned, for its success in preserving real ale.
The general Introduction has short but telling observations, such as that the majority of pubs was built in the Victorian period, to serve the surging population spawned by the Industrial Revolution.
The variety of pubs is stressed, as to age, architectural styles, patrons, and more obscure factors such as the influence of Christianity, e.g. some pubs were on pilgrimage routes.
Of course many pubs listed, perhaps most, no longer operate although many buildings still stand (I checked a number of examples). That said, many pubs are still going strong, Covid regulations permitting of course.
Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, The Lamb, Henekey’s Inn (now Cittie of York), Edgar Wallace, The Guinea, The Dove, The Blackfriar, are just a few examples.
Opening the book at random, I noted The Old Swan of Watney Mann in Battersea. It had a lighterage theme, evident in the thrusting hull-shapes of the exterior.
The facing page has the stately The French Revolution on Upper Richmond Road. Some ironies there, I think, of architecture and location.
Neither exists today. The Old Swan offered Watney’s Special, Red Barrel, Ben Truman, Carlsberg, and draught Guinness.
The French Revolution had Whitbread Trophy, Tankard, Heineken, draught cider – and draught sherry, which tells you something of locale and era. The French Revolution was formerly Cricketers, due to a cricket club on Putney Lower Common.
I should add all pubs in the book are depicted in striking black and white drawings. The artist is described simply as Myerscough, a person of evident ability.
I recall other guides of the time, to which this series was broadly similar. If one can generalize, this writing, certainly Pubs of London, reflected the mid-20th century, restrained public writing style of Britain. Nothing very emotional, or rather, the emotion is conveyed in a particular way.
Today’s public writing, influenced by social media, wears its heart on the sleeve much more. There are advantages to each, I suppose, but I incline to the former.
The author commented of the City:
… despite [the] new building, old spires, dilapidated warehouses, and posh blocks with tinted glass unexpectedly live harmoniously together.
While much has changed, not least in beer and, especially at the moment, pub life in Britain, the observation was prescient, indeed for London generally.
The book might have benefitted from a short description of beer styles; that apart it was exemplary of its type, and is a good collectible.
Note re images: Used for educational and research purposes. All intellectual property in “Alka-Seltzer Guide to the Pubs of London” belongs solely to lawful owner. All feedback welcomed.