A new book published by Open City takes a look at London’s pubs from a different perspective taken by many pub guides published today.
Edited by Cristina Moneiro and David Knight who run DK-CM, an architecture and planning practice, and is a follow on from a project started 10-years ago to document London’s pubs. In total, 121 pubs are included in the book, mostly short vignettes written by the editors, but 15 of them have been the triggers for longer and more in-depth exploration in essays by a variety of contributors.
A useful introduction at the start gives a brief insight into the vary varied history of the pub, from the early aleshouses, coaching inns, taverns and even coffee houses, into the Victorian palaces we often imagine as the pinnacle of the pub, and the modern more social spaces we have today.
It’s not a book that’s laid out in an order that would suggest this book is a pub-crawl type of guide, but presented in a more narrative order where the stories from each pub tries to flow into the next and pub styles are grouped together, even if that geographically means some leaping around the city.
Many old favourites are here, but also many that will be new even to pub aficionados, as they have interesting stories to tell.
A pub on a side street in Greenwich turns out to have once been on a major coaching road, until the route changed in 1699, but the pub is still here. Thge Mitre has a few myths dispelled. How the Royal Oak in Bexley gained its nickname of the Polly Cleanstairs is explained, while one of the several Blue Post pubs in Westminster turns out to have been a haunt of politicial refugees in the 19th-century.
The range is such that this is as much a pub guide as a history book, interspersed with long personal reminiscences, and a handful of closed pubs being mourned.
Public House traces tales of craft, architecture, music, queer activism, black history, comedy, migration, sport and heritage featuring a wide range of contributors including comedian Isy Suttie, musician Bob Stanley, brewer Jaega Wise and politician Rupa Huq.
The book is illustrated with a range of photos and illustrations and a rough map, but it’s a guide to the character of the pubs, not an ale-lovers logbook of what’s on tap and where.
In that sense alone, it’s a pleasing drift into those pleasant nights spent in pubs chatting with friends over pints and shared bags of crisps.
To book ends noting that it’s apparently a custom now to empty bags of crisps into a bowl for sharing — I’ve never known anyone do that, a bag ripped open on the table is about as good as it gets for me, and all the better for the casual ramshackle torn effect.
Much like many of the pubs in the book. Delightful for being unfussy.
The book, Public House: A Cultural and Social History of the London Pub, is available from Open City