The English Public House in 1886

A portrait of the English pub appeared in 1886 in the U.S. press including The Oswego Blade of New York. The story originated in the Chicago Herald, and evidently was syndicated.

The pub was exotic enough to attract American readers’ interest. Their saloon, originating in a common source, had evolved into something different.

From the article:

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.”

“Sample room” for a bar or saloon may have a Chicago origin, as suggested by the Encyclopedia of Chicago History.

The Herald usefully sketches the Victorian pub, distinguishing village and urban versions. There is a tinge of condescension, not untypical for American coverage of Britain then, but the piece retains its historical value.

The writer explains that in the country, the pub shows vestiges of yore, e.g. by deference paid to village notables. The landlord himself might earn that status, see my earlier piece.

As local gentry often owned held the village  freehold or employed part of the populace, enlightened self-interest probably paid a role in this respect, a level of sociology beyond the journalist’s ken.

The piece noted that in country pubs the professional classes might dominate the “snug”, a sequestered nook, while in London’s tony sections retinues of aristocracy had that privilege.

The snug, aka snug-room or snuggery, was a small chamber, sometimes shielded from view by frosted glass. Women customers might also frequent it, or officials on public business, e.g. conducting voting or judging exhibits at a fair.

Many older pubs today retain the physical arrangements of 1886 although spatially the use has evolved. Still, the essential function of the pub, as social meeting place or resort for personal downtime, has not changed.

Below is a country pub and inn of today in Dinton, Wiltshire, the Penruddocke Arms (source: Wikipedia).





2 thoughts on “The English Public House in 1886”

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: