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Making ale and hearty history; The local writer and historian Charlie Steel continues his fascinating fortnightly series on the history of the English pub.

ALE has been drunk on the British Isles since the Bronze Age, but it was the arrival of the Romans and the construction of their roads that the need for resting places for travellers became necessary and so the earliest inns arrived. Those available houses were generally divided into Inns, Taverns and Alehouses, but the term public house didn't come into use until the late 17th century. It was from this point onwards that the three began to merge together into what was termed as a 'pub'.

Up to the end of the 19th century, it was considered indecent for unaccompanied women to enter public houses, however the outbreak of the First World War changed this attitude as many women who had been granted new opportunities in maintaining the country while the men were away, were able to enter a pub without causing scandal.

Drinking has always been a class issue, the working class expects to drink but so do the upper and middle but there has always been a sense that the three should do so separately.

Pubs truly are the heart of England, they change with the country and the culture. They struggle when we do and they adapt when we do.

Therefore the humble boozer has come under much fire over the last century or so.

With the influx of lager and many other pasteurised and mass-produced beers, many traditional ales died out, however in 1971, the formation of the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) has addressed the issue, and many new 'real ales' have been introduced to regain their popularity.

Pubs often served food in the past but offered little more than a ploughman's cheese platter or a bag of crisps as they were primarily a place for drinking.

Today, many traditional pubs survive by maintaining a fine kitchen. They alter to the demand of the public and know they need to provide more as cheaper liquor becomes available in supermarkets and chain bars.

The fact still remains that for whatever the reason, as fewer and fewer people are going to visit their local, the future of the old traditional pub remains uncertain.

'Sir; there is nothing which has yet been contrived by man, by which so much happiness is produced as by a good Tavern or Inn.' Samuel Johnson.

ALEHOUSES, INNS, TAVERNS & HOTELS In the medieval period alehouses were ordinary dwellings where the householder served home-brewed ale and beer. If lodging for travellers was offered, this might be no more than bedding on the floor in the kitchen, or in a barn.

The term alehouse was gradually replaced by 'Public House' during the 18th century.

Turn to Page 26 From Page 25 From the 1810s we find purposebuilt public houses, starting in London and the larger provincial towns. The number of pubs grew with the population.

The late Victorian era saw the creation of flamboyant and beautiful pub buildings and interiors, notable for their sumptuous decoration, ornamental bar mirrors, tiled walls, grained woodwork, furniture, fittings and etched glass.

So much modernisation has taken place over the last half-century that only some 200 pub interiors in Britain survive intact from any earlier era.

INNS: Inns by contrast were generally purpose-built to accommodate travellers. They needed more bedrooms than the average house and substantial stabling. Some of the earliest great inns were built by monasteries in centres of pilgrimage.

Some larger inns had more scope for events. The type built with galleries around a courtyard provided an arena for plays or cockfights.

By the mid-18th century larger alehouses were becoming commonplace, while inns beside the major highways grew in grandeur and new ones sprang up in this coaching era. The first English hotel was built in Exeter in 1768, but this term was rare before 1800.

Coaching inns declined, although some were able to mutate into public houses or hotels, which flourished in the later 20th century along with the motor car.

TAVERNS: Taverns sold wine. Since wine was far more expensive than ale or beer, taverns catered to richer patrons who could afford it. They were restricted to towns and hugely outnumbered by alehouses. They were eventually replaced by, or converted into coffee houses as social centres for the wealthier classes.

HOTELS: With the coming of the railways, many large hotels were built close to railway stations. Some of the grandest were in the large cities.

DECORATIVE PUBS: During the late 1800s and early 1900s, many public houses throughout the British Isles were built and faced with glazed terracotta or decorated ceramic tiles, which usually incorporated the name of the estab-lishment displayed in the same ornate signage and lettering.

Although hard wearing, this method of building was a very time consuming and expensive process to undertake.

An architect would have to produce a detailed plan in order to prepare for the bricks and tiles to be individually manufactured. This in itself was a lengthy operation, as the finished items would also have to be checked to ensure they all fitted together perfectly. They would then in turn, have to be numbered before shipment to make certain that they were correctly constructed on site.

There were a small number of pubs of this type in North Shields, and one in Tynemouth, which typically, had facades that were glazed in varying shades of brown, amber, and yellow, all of which added an attractive and prestigious style and appearance to the building.

Of the nine known, three have been demolished. Of the six remaining, only two continue to trade today and they are The Tynemouth Lodge Hotel on Correction House Bank and The Cumberland Arms on Front Street, Tynemouth.

Perhaps the most ornate and beautiful Public House remaining in the British Isles is the Crown Liquor Saloon in Belfast. Not only is the exterior ornately tiled and decorated, but the inside is a unique masterpiece of bar architecture, and a sight to behold.

The entire building is a priceless gem of Victoriana and probably ranks as of the great bars of the world. Formerly known as The Liquor Saloon in Great Victoria Street, Belfast, it was one of the mightiest Victorian gin palaces which once flourished in the industrial cities of the British Isles.

Inside, there is a burnished primrose yellow, red and gold ceiling; a floor laid in a myriad of mosaic tiles; brocaded walls; ubiquitous highly patterned tiles; vigorous wood carving throughout; ornate mirrors; wooden columns with Corinthian capitals and feather motifs in gold with painted and etched glass everywhere you look. Vivid in amber and carmine painted shells, fairies, pineapples, fleurs-de-lis and clowns, incidentally the colourful decorative windows fronting the bar were originally intended to shield customers from inquisitive passers-by. The long Balmoral Red granite topped altar bar is divided by columns and faced with gaily coloured tiles and a heated foot rest.

There are huge casks with polished brass taps. Save for the inscriptions in English on the mahogany cabinet behind the bar - 'High Class Whiskey - Direct Importers - Special Wines', yet the glittering exuberant feeling, in all its detail, still remains within the bounds of good taste in a scene that has remained unchanged for over a century.

Another great delight in this magical place is the ten different-shaped cosy and elaborately carved wooden boxes, lettered from A to J. In the snugs there are gunmetal plates for striking matches, and an antique bell system, very common in Victorian houses to alert bar staff and their servants to the liquid needs of their customers.

Drinking snugs, according to old records, were not originally built for comfort, but to accommodate those people who preferred to drink quietly and unseen. Nevertheless, the 'snug' habit very much remains with us and even in many modern bars you may still find a version of this quaint drinking apartment, but it is still a 'snug' or 'box' - to use the colloquial name.

Today, wonderfully preserved, the historic Crown is cherished and still well-used by the people of Belfast. It is owned by the National Trust and carefully managed by Nicholson's Pubs (part of Mitchells & Butlers).

The National Trust purchased this exotic property in 1978 and a sympathetic restoration was carried out in 1981. To restore the bar to its full Victorian splendour cost PS400,000 and in 2007 Mitchells & Butlers again spent over half a million pounds to ensure the pub was saved in pristine condition for generations to come.

Charlie Steel was born in New-|castle and attended Langley Avenue and Monkseaton County Secondary Schools. In 1975, he joined Northumbria Police, where he served for 30 years until his retirement in 2005. The last two years of his service were spent as Deputy Licensing Officer for North Tyneside in which he helped oversee the transition of alcohol licensing from the police and magistrates to the local authority.


The typical basic 20th century alehouse bar that was once commonplace throughout many towns in the UK Charlie Steel

The beautiful Victorian splendour and ornate interior of the Crown Liquor <B Saloon, Belfast

The Tynemouth Lodge Hotel is a stone built structure situated on Correction House Bank near North Shields. The <Bfrontage of the building comprises a decorative facade of glazed cream and brown terracotta tiles

The frontage of the Cumberland <B Arms at Tynemouth remains virtually unaltered from when it was first constructed in 1855, with three ogee archways, and two doors
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:May 11, 2015
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