The English pub in 1886

In the Pubs the Pundits Come and Go, Talking of …

A compact, 1886 portrait of the English public house appeared in numerous American newspapers, including this one in Owego, NY. The piece is credited to the London correspondent of the Chicago Herald and was evidently syndicated.

It reads:

There is a great deal more sociability in the English public house than in the Ameri­can sample room. In the lanes and side streets of the fashionable part of London may be found the same character of old-fashioned public as in the city. Every one of these has its regular customers, and its ” snuggery” in the evening is generally full of its patrons who are, for the most part, the coachman, grooms, and “gentlemen’s gentlemen,” otherwise valets of the “classes” who reside in the neighboring Belgravia. Here the Jeameses canvass the characters of their various lords, and ladies, and more true scandal is talked in these public house snuggeries than in any of their ladies’ boudoirs.

The village public is quite an institution by itself, and is as distinct in character from its London brother as chalk is from cheese. Here the landlord still retains some of the qualities and bearings of “mine host” of former days. The public is the headquarters of the political lights of the village, and doctor, lawyer and farmer meet together in the snuggery to discuss the merits of a popular race horse or a popular statesman just as frequently now as they did in days gone by. The railroad and telegraph have had wonderfully little effect in some of the rural parts of England, and Hodge, in the village public, is just as densely ignorant of anything that goes on beyond his own immediate kin as ever he was. To him “t’sqoir” and the “big house” are the epitomes of all that is great and noble, and the opinions of the lord of the manor give a coloring to everything discussed in the “snuggery.”

The interesting term sample room for bar or saloon may have a Windy City origin – how apposite – and is explained in this entry of the online Encyclopedia of Chicago History.

Some condescension apart, The Chicago Herald usefully sketches the Victorian pub including the distinction between village and urban versions.

The country pub retained vestiges of an earlier time, when deference was paid to local notables. These could include the landlord himself as we saw in this posting. 

Here, the high-ranking still exercised a powerful hold on the pub denizens. This was not just from tradition and habit I think, but the likelihood the squire held the freehold in the pub, or employed part of the village in some way.

In the country, professional classes might frequent the snug in the pub to socialize. In Belgravia, one of the best parts of London then or now, that aerie was used by the retinues of gentry and other monied people.

Those who know The Star Tavern in Belgrave Mews, Belgravia can imagine it was exactly the kind of place described by the Herald for that quarter.

The snug, or snug-room, or snuggery, was a small chamber closed off in some way from the main bar, sometimes with frosted glass. It tended to house women, or prominent persons of some kind or be used for official purposes (inquests, vote-count).

Victorian pubs in tony districts could evidently see the snugs dominated by elite employees of prominent families or other poo-bahs. I can’t thing off-hand of the right sociological term for this but I’m sure some readers can. (Inverted something or other?).

All in all, not much has changed seemingly in terms of how the English pubs are used, after work, for chatting and down-time, with each having its regulars, etc.

It’s as if life has gone on in the pub for hundreds of years more or less autonymously while the social scientists, writers and artists, and journalists who study them assiduously, come and go.

With apologies to Eliot, the mermaids sing, each to each, but not to the public house – for which it is doubtless grateful.




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