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Thread: Pubs in literature

  1. #1
    This Space For Hire Pubsignman's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2010
    Croydon and occasionally Dorset

    Default Pubs in literature

    I've read a couple of books recently that had some interesting descriptions of pubs in them, giving an small insight into what pubs were like at various points in history. I thought it might be nice to have a thread to post any memorable pub related passages from books you've read.

    I'll start with a couple from George Orwell's 'Keep the Aspidistra Flying', which is set in London, 1934. In the first, the book's protaganist, Gordon Comstock, stands outside a pub debating whether to enter and spend the last pennies he has to his name.

    In Camden Town the pubs were full and noisy, though
    this was only Thursday. Three women, red-armed, squat as the beer
    mugs in their hands, stood outside a pub door, talking. From
    within came hoarse voices, fag-smoke, the fume of beer. Gordon
    thought of the Crichton Arms. Flaxman might be there..

    He felt dreadfully thirsty already. It had been a mistake to let
    himself think of beer. As he approached the Crichton, he heard
    voices singing. The great garish pub seemed to be more brightly
    lighted than usual. There was a concert of something going on
    inside. Twenty ripe male voices were chanting in unison:

    'Fo--or REE'S a jorrigoo' fellow,
    For REE'S a jorrigoo' fellow,
    For REE'S a jorrigoo' fe--ELL--OW--
    And toori oori us!'

    At least, that was what it sounded like. Gordon drew nearer,
    pierced by a ravishing thirst. The voices were so soggy, so
    infinitely beery. When you heard them you saw the scarlet faces of
    prosperous plumbers. There was a private room behind the bar where
    the Buffaloes held their secret conclaves. Doubtless it was they
    who were singing. They were giving some kind of commemorative
    booze to their president, secretary, Grand Herbivore, or whatever
    he is called. Gordon hesitated outside the Saloon bar. Better to
    go to the public bar, perhaps. Draught beer in the public, bottled
    beer in the saloon. He went round to the other side of the pub.
    The beer-choked voices followed him:

    'With a toori oori ay.
    An' a toori oori ay!

    'Fo--or REE'S a jorrigoo' fellow,
    For REE'S a jorrigoo' fellow--'

    He felt quite faint for a moment. But it was fatigue and hunger as
    well as thirst. He could picture the cosy room where those
    Buffaloes were singing; the roaring fire, the big shiny table, the
    bovine photographs on the wall. Could picture also, as the singing
    ceased, twenty scarlet faces disappearing into pots of beer. Already he seemed to have the metallic taste of draught
    beer on his tongue.

    Gordon moved back to the saloon bar. The window was frosted, and
    also steamy from the heat inside. Still, there were chinks where
    you could see through. He peeped in. Yes, Flaxman was there.

    The saloon bar was crowded. Like all rooms seen from the outside,
    it looked ineffably cosy. The fire that blazed in the grate
    danced, mirrored, in the brass spittoons. Gordon thought he could
    almost smell the beer through the glass. Flaxman was propping up
    the bar with two fish-faced pals who looked like insurance-touts of
    the better type. One elbow on the bar, his foot on the rail, a
    beer-streaked glass in the other hand, he was swapping backchat
    with the blonde cutie barmaid. She was standing on a chair behind
    the bar, ranging the bottled beer and talking saucily over her
    shoulder. You couldn't hear what they were saying, but you could
    guess. Flaxman let fall some memorable witticism. The fish-faced
    men bellowed with obscene laughter. And the blonde cutie,
    tittering down at him, half shocked and half delighted, wriggled
    her neat little bum.
    And in this passage Gordon visits a pub with his well-to-do friend Ravelston;

    Presently they passed a low-looking pub on
    a corner in a side-street. A sour cloud of beer seemed to hang
    about it. The smell revolted Ravelston. He would have quickened
    his pace to get away from it. But Gordon paused, his nostrils

    'Christ! I could do with a drink,' he said.

    'So could I,' said Ravelston gallantly.

    Gordon shoved open the door of the public bar, Ravelston following.
    Ravelston persuaded himself that he was fond of pubs, especially
    low-class pubs. Pubs are genuinely proletarian. In a pub you can
    meet the working class on equal terms--or that's the theory,
    anyway. But in practice Ravelston never went into a pub unless he
    was with somebody like Gordon, and he always felt like a fish out
    of water when he got there. A foul yet coldish air enveloped them.
    It was a filthy, smoky room, low-ceilinged, with a sawdusted floor
    and plain deal tables ringed by generations of beer-pots. In one
    corner four monstrous women with breasts the size of melons were
    sitting drinking porter and talking with bitter intensity about
    someone called Mrs Croop. The landlady, a tall grim woman with a
    black fringe, looking like the madame of a brothel, stood behind
    the bar, her powerful forearms folded, watching a game of darts
    which was going on between four labourers and a postman. You had
    to duck under the darts as you crossed the room, there was a
    moment's hush and people glanced inquisitively at Ravelston. He
    was so obviously a gentleman. They didn't see his type very often
    in the public bar.

    Ravelston pretended not to notice that they were staring at him.
    He lounged towards the bar, pulling off a glove to feel for the
    money in his pocket. 'What's yours?' he said casually.

    But Gordon had already shoved his way ahead and was tapping a
    shilling on the bar. Always pay for the first round of drinks! It
    was his point of honour. Ravelston made for the only vacant table.
    A navvy leaning on the bar turned on his elbow and gave him a long,
    insolent stare 'A ---- toff!' he was thinking. Gordon came back
    balancing two pint glasses of the dark common ale. They were thick
    cheap glasses, thick as jam jars almost, and dim and greasy. A
    thin yellow froth was subsiding on the beer. The air was thick
    with gunpowdery tobacco-smoke. Ravelston caught sight of a well-
    filled spittoon near the bar and averted his eyes. It crossed his
    mind that this beer had been sucked up from some beetle-ridden
    cellar through yards of slimy tube, and that the glasses had never
    been washed in their lives, only rinsed in beery water. Gordon was
    very hungry. He could have done with some bread and cheese, but to
    order any would have been to betray the fact that he had had no
    dinner. He took a deep pull at his beer and lighted a cigarette,
    which made him forget his hunger a little. Ravelston also
    swallowed a mouthful or so and set his glass gingerly down. It was
    typical London beer, sickly and yet leaving a chemical after-taste.
    Ravelston thought of the wines of Burgundy.
    I'll try to dig a few more out that have stuck in my memory over recent years.

  2. #2
    Real Ale Drinker Brewguru's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2010
    Martock, Somerset


    Plenty of Dorset pubs mentioned in Hardys novels.

    One near Yeovil is the Rest and Welcome, Melbury Osmond which makes great claims about the fact Hardy wrote about it as The Sheaf of Arrows in one of his more obscure pieces http://www.the-rest-and-welcome-inn....9/Default.aspx

    There are numerous descriptions of pubs in the novels, most of which will be based on pubs in and around Dorchester. Aren't some Oxford Taverns written about in Jude the Obscure?
    Last edited by Brewguru; 11-05-2012 at 13:11. Reason: typo

  3. #3
    Old & Bitter oldboots's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2009
    God's Own County


    During the 1930s there was quite a vogue for Olde English Inns and several books were written on the subject, usually listing the same ancient inns. They were usually written by well educated chaps with a love of inns and a literary turn of phrase, partly to take advantage of the new middle class access to private motoring. These inns are the sort of place one motored to for luncheon and a clear pint of pale ale. The books often have a set of watercolours or handsome line drawings specially done for the book or black & white photos evoking a lost age.

    This is the begining of the first chapter of A E Richardson's "The Old Inns of England" first published 1934.

    If, to you, 'Saloon' is different from 'Public Bar,' and both are different from 'Jug and Bottle': if you know better than to order beer in a Wine House; if you can feel the difference between 'coffee room' and 'restaurant': if you would rather have a quick one leaning against a bar, with your feet on a sawdust floor, than sitting on a hard fake-Tudor chair, at a shiny fake-Plantagenet table, with spiky palm above your head: if you are the sort who does not get shown into the parlour as soon as you enter a village alehouse: then this book is intended for you.

    If on the other hand, you use roads just as a means of transit from one town to another: if you really think that sham medieval beams on the outside of a large and obviously new public-house are preferable to no decoration at all, beyond the good proportions of windows, and honest stone and bricks: if 'de-luxe' attracts you more than 'family and commercial': if you think that true comfort and civilisation are somehow connected with the words 'up to date': then you have no business to have read this book beyond the opening paragraphs. For we are not dealing with palatial hotels, but with inns large and small.

    Now most inns, whatever their size, are the centre of the town. They are the homes of gossip and political opinion, from which issue forth plans for local sports and slate-club subscriptions. The social graces in an inn, the local customs and games in the bar, are surrounded by a ritual and taboo as complicated as an elaborate church service. The inn as a social centre has never been studied closely enough. Before all the old people who fill up a bar on a Saturday evening die off, perhaps the significance of the inn will be studied and chronicled by some economists and psychologists.
    There are many diseases,
    that strike people's kneeses,
    Covid19! is one by name
    It comes from the East
    Packed in bladders of yeast
    So the Chinese must take half the blame.

    Apologies to Spike Milligan

  4. #4
    The Beerhunter. RogerB's Avatar
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    Dec 2009
    Dartford, Kentshire near Londinium.


    On the subject of Orwell, it was his essay on his "perfect pub" published in 1946 that was the blueprint for Wetherspoons! Not sure I can fully recognise all the similarities but you can check it for yourself here...

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