What links “keg beer” (the UK pressurized draft), World War II, corporate London, the town of Corby, and the Bard’s Stratford? Why, Pluto, of course!
It is unlikely you know what this Pluto is, or rather was: a pub in Corby, a town in North Northamptonshire, East Midlands.
A website on lost pubs in Corby states this Pluto was on Gainsborough Road. One might think the name had an interstellar, in fact Space Age inspiration since the Pluto was built in postwar Britain.
But the heavens had nothing to do with it. If anything the reverse was true: the name was drawn from the dank depths of the sea – the English Channel, specifically.
How could this be? The name was an acronym, from Pipe Line Under The Ocean, as stated in the Lost Pubs site. Alright, fair enough, but why did the name not festoon a seaside pub then?
From Lost Pubs:
It was originally opened to commemorate the contribution made by Stewarts and Lloyds Steel Works in making the PLUTO Project [Pipe Line Under The Ocean] during the Second World War Normandy invasion.
The line supplied vital petroleum to move the Allied forces east towards victory. An important steel works was located in Corby, and fabricated the piping as a secret project.
Further background appears from a 1966 news profile of Flower’s Brewery in Stratford-on-Avon, odd as the connection seems. By then Flower’s was in the Whitbread stable, along with the Luton-based regional it had merged with in 1954, J.W. Green (the Flower’s name was conferred on the merged business).
Whitbread of course was the London-based brewery giant, combining pedigree and commercial smarts in equal measure. It had a stable of more than 5,000 pubs feeding Whitbread beer to the masses, not counting thousands more operating under a dozen affiliates’ names.
The 1966 article, or rather two, are contained in the Birmingham Daily Post of February 24, 1966 (via British Newspaper Archive). The main piece explained where Flower’s in the year of writing fit in the Whitbread scheme.
The tone is upbeat, with the future painted as rosy.* The piece explained that a second Flower’s brewery erected in Stratford in 1870 – in 1966 it was still called “the new brewery” – had enough fermentation capacity built in the design to supply wants in 1966.
Of course changes had occurred, e.g., a repurposing of the maltings area to create more bottling capacity. Another was the installation of large aluminum tanks, shown gleam in the article, to condition Flower’s keg beer.
As an adjunct to this bright (!) picture, another story on the same page profiled Mrs. David Lloyd, a sister of company chairman Sir Fordham Flower, and a fellow director on the board.
She started with Flower’s in 1958, working to modernize its public houses. While not possessing design qualifications “on paper”, she demonstrated a natural aptitude for the job. In part she was selected to make Flower’s pubs more attractive to women.
While hewing to few rules, she felt:
…in the main, pastel and possibly cold colours, such as cerulean blue and eau de nil, should be avoided, the preference of most people nowadays being for autumn shades, dark reds, and other solid, warm colours.
The article described her work with pubs in Coventry, Corby, and Stratford itself.** Let’s return to the Pluto, in 2022 vanished from Britain’s constellation of inns and pubs.
We learn her husband David Lloyd was connected to the Lloyds of Stewarts and Lloyds, the firm who made the steel for the vital Channel pipeline. He did not devise the pub’s name.
Rather, a competition was held to name it and “Pluto” was the winner. But Mr. Lloyd seized the significance of the name, which lead to its history being recorded in the Birmingham press.
While the statement by Lost Pubs of a nod to the steel plant and its workers is undoubtedly correct, I think there was a further, more humorous implication to the name. Think of neck oil. Think of draft lines (“pipes”, in pub parlance) to get aforesaid oil to neck.
About 12 years ago the Pluto in Corby was torn down. Press stories explain it was a magnet for drugs and crime, and the time came to clear it away. On April 21, 2021 journalist Kate Cronin explained the background well, in the Northamptonshire Telegraph.
In the years since the pull-down the site has changed hands numerous times. Seemingly as many applications have been made to authorities to authorize a housing plan, so far without result.
A forlorn lot lays where a Corby pub once stood. But to one who walks by with discernment, they will note a brick wall with black iron fence. Atop its gate is a simple, tubular arch, painted in industrial red (photo source: Northamptonshire Telegraph article as linked).
The press account of 1966 stated the arch came from the Pluto pipeline built under the Channel waters to win the war.
I’d like to think when the Pluto was torn down, someone knew the history and ensured wall and arch would stay. Maybe there was a more prosaic reason for the survival.
Either way, the simple steel artwork contains a multiform story.
Postscript. This image at Pinterest shows the Pluto in its heyday, a smart, 1950s bungalow-style building. For good background on the meticulous planning and construction of the wartime pipeline, see this Daily Grind piece of February 11, 2016.
Note re image: Source linked in text. Used for educational and research purposes. All ownership therein belongs solely to lawful owner. All feedback welcomed.
*In a year or so the Stratford brewery would be shut.
**According to her 1966 profile Mrs. Lloyd also worked on a pub in Stratford called the Anchor. She ensured, with a good eye to history, that an updating of décor did not employ a nautical (oceangoing) theme, as the pub’s name was actually an allusion to inland waterways.
She had the bar shaped to resemble a canal long boat. Today, the Anchor in Stratford is called the Encore. You may view the current bar, here. Stylish it is, as the restaurant in general, but seemingly unconnected to the work Mrs. Lloyd did. Of course, that was 60 years ago.