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01-06-2015, 09:22
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http://boakandbailey.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/proposed_public_house.jpgAs ‘new towns’ and Corbusier-inspired estates were built in the rubble and green field of post-War Britain, pubs were a focus of debate.At least that’s what preliminary research for one of several embryonic projects we have on the go suggests, though we’ve a lot more reading and pondering to do. In the meantime, here are a few nuggets we’ve stumbled across which start to hint at what else might be out there for us to find.
The argument*seems to have been between, on the one hand, those who thought pubs*were essential components of working class communities;*and, on the other, those who saw pubs as part of slum culture, and so regarded*this as an opportunity to sweep away a ‘social evil’ that was holding back progress.
In 1946, Edward Hulton used the magazine he published,*Picture Post, as a platform to set out his views on post-war planning, which were that new towns had the potential to embody a real sense of community:
[The] new towns must not have a bureaucratic spirit. Certainly they should not become, like many of the present suburbs, mere collections of dwelling-boxes. As has been wisely said, they must have, not only houses but churches, and not only churches but theatres — and pubs!*(25/05/1946)
But some did not buy into that Utopian vision.*Here’s*Picture Post*reporting the debate over rival plans for Birkenhead in 1944:
The supporters of the Robinson plan… say that the ‘greens’ will soon by ruined, that Reilly’s attractive picture of a village green in summer is more likely to be, in reality, an expanse of hardened mud, with footballs whizzing past the noses of the incautious who try to take the air in the evening, and oaths and noise of brawling coming from the direction of the pubs.
There was even*a strong lobby to permit pubs to be built in new towns only if they were under state control because.*Here’s George Walker, Labour MP for Rossendale and a confirmed temperance campaigning teetotaller, speaking in the House of Commons in debates around the Licensing Bill (http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/1949/may/17/licensing-bill#S5CV0465P0_19490517_HOC_366)*in*1949:
I feel very strongly that we should have been an immeasurably better country, healthier and wiser, and that everything would have been improved, if we had had little to do with [the liquour traffic]… What I do not like about it is that the Home Secretary, in introducing this Bill, seems to have conceived the idea that we are to transfer thousands of people to these new towns, and that every 1,500 or 2,000 people brought from congested areas and dumped down into these new towns would bring their local pub with them; there would be a pub for every 1,200 or 1,500 people.
In the usual British way, a compromise that satisfied no-one was*reached: most estates and new towns would have*pubs, but not quite enough, and so sterile as to be downright off-putting.
Michael Young and Peter Wilmott’s best-selling sociological study*Family and Kinship in East London*(1957, rev. 1962) describes*what happened when people from the East End*began to move en masse to new towns like*‘Greenleigh’ in Essex (actually an anonymised Debden).*‘Instead of the hundred fussy, fading little pubs of the borough, there are just the neon lights and armchairs of the Merchant Venturer and Yeoman Arms,’*they said, and observed that, in this context, old neighbourhood relationships began to break down:
One reason people have so little to do with neighbours is the absence of places to meet them. In Bethnal Green there is one pub for every 400 people, and one shop for every 44… At Greenleigh there is one pub for 5,000 people, and one shop for 300…*Confronted by higher expenses… [many] of the husbands gave up drinking, a change made all the easier by the absence of pubs. ‘I was a very heavy drinker before,’ said Mr Minton. ‘I’m a teetotaller now.‘
With all this in mind*we found ourselves looking with interest at a chunky hardback volume entitled A Decade of British Housing*published by the Architectural Press in 1975, which includes plans for several housing estates. The main picture above this post is a proposal for the St Mary’s Redevelopment Area, Oldham; if you look right at the centre, you’ll see a building*labelled ‘Proposed Public House’. The text elaborates: ‘A site for one public house next to the main pedestrian route was designed to attract through as well as local traffic.’ This is a bit confusing, though, because there are actually two marked on the map. At any rate, that means the plan allowed either for one pub for 520 houses/flats, or one for every 260 — even less than at ‘Greenleigh’, our back-of-a-beer-mat calculations suggest.
This is the only pub we can find on the estate as it is today, the Centurion Inn:

Even when it was shiny and new, it can’t have looked especially cosy, and that style of architecture so popular in the 1960s and 70s — red brick and white wood — does not age gracefully.
And this estate did well to get even that: many other plans in the same book include no*space for a public house at all — just row after row of identical houses and concrete alleyways.
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