Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Local, by Paul Jennings

The Local: A History of the English Pub, by Paul Jennings

My good friends the PubGuys mentioned this book in one of their daily updates and I thought it looked interesting. It certainly was, although it was typically British—dry, dry, dry. Jennings traces the history of the English pub from the 1700’s to today. A heavy emphasis on statistics makes some passages a bit difficult to slog through; a typical example reads, “A parliamentary return of 1839 showed that 43 per cent of beerhouses were rated at under £10, including 10.1 per cent under £5, and 23.8 per cent at over £15. By 1853 whereas 21.1 per cent were now rated at under £10, 54.7 per cent were now at or above £15.” As dry as the text was, the pictures and illustrations were fantastic! In fact, I dearly wanted to see more. Floor plans of drinking establishments through the centuries were the most fascinating, showing the gradual change from separate rooms for the bar and taps and dining to the more gradual communal space we recognize now.

I was amazed to find that before the World Wars, the temperance movement and government licensing nearly killed the pub, an establishment I’ve always considered idiosyncratic to the British lifestyle. “Having begun the war as the supreme threat to the nation’s survival, drink ended it as a support to morale whose supplies government was keen to maintain.” That said, the conclusion was somewhat surprising to me: “the pub today has a smaller role [in society] that it ever did.” The acceptance of women into pubs starting with the late nineteenth century has offset the rise of drinking at home, but the scene is fragmenting with the rise of food and music establishments and corporate ownership. Older and rural pubs are closing as well; in 1991 in only 205 pubs in the entire UK were found to have historical importance—a staggering difference when compared to churches and other English institutions.

While the pub may be flagging overseas, I’m very glad to report that I at least am doing what I can to keep my locals, places like The Dig Pub and B. B. Rovers (not your typical pretentious American bars) going strongly!

First Sentence:
What is a pub?

No comments:

Search This Blog