Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Pubs and the Publican part 4

Ellen Welch was born in Tottenham in 1878 and by 1896 she was married. In common with the custom of the period, no profession is given for the bride on her marriage certificate. What is interesting about her entry on the certificate was that her age was given as 21, the age of majority at that time. Brides who were not of legal age needed parental permission to marry but that would have been difficult in her case as her last remaining parent, her father, had died the month before the marriage. It seems her marriage at the age of 18 had the blessing of her family as her brother was one of the witnesses. But what had she been doing before she became a wife and when did her association with the serving side of pubs begin?

At the time of their wedding Henry Booth’s profession was given as waiter. In the previous census taken in 1891, about five years before the wedding, Henry was working as a barman at the St James Tavern in Westminster. How had Ellen and Henry met and then married in West Ham, a place remote from where they both started out? The mobility of serving staff as well as the proximity of men and women spending long hours in the common work of waiting on bar patrons makes it seem likely that they met in a pub where they were both serving staff. The theory of how their connection started out is also supported by the documents that trace Ellen and Henry’s lives together after their marriage as they moved through a series of public houses; a path that sheds light on the working life of people behind the bar. 

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Pubs and the Publican part 3

Not only did their clientele change but public houses evolved in other ways as well. Our idea of a traditional urban pub with ornate mirrors, etched glass and polished brass fittings is actually a later evolution of the traditional tavern tarted up with the glitz of a gin palace. In larger places the premises might be divided into a stand up bar for the drinkers of spirits like gin; a cozy parlour for the more respectable clientele such as tradesmen, clerks and reporters; and a tap room for artisans and engineers.

The trade itself also evolved from independent pubs run by the owners to public houses owned by the breweries and run by publicans who were actually tied tenants of the brewers. Brewing companies would own a string of pubs to which they supplied beer. That is why it was common to see brewer’s signs like Barclay Perkins or Whitbread prominently displayed above the sign for the name of the pub on the front of the premises. My grandparents were publican tenants of a brewery. But how they ended up running the Hearts of Oak pub in London’s East End and my grandmother’s long association with the serving side of pubs is a story that illustrates many of the changes that pubs experienced through the decades.


Jennings, Paul. The Local: A History of the English Pub. Tempus Publishing Limited, Stroud, Gloucestershire, 2007

Monckton, H.A. A History of the English Public House. The Bodley Head Ltd., London, 1969

Spiller, Brian. Victorian Public Houses. David and Charles Ltd., London, 1972.