by Brunton, Marsh, McInnes and Walters.
Reviewed by Kenneth Wolfe
This superb history of the public houses in these two south London locations has come at the just the right moment: the ‘Crown and Greyhound’ in Dulwich Village remains a building site while the future of the Half Moon in Herne Hill has only recently been confirmed. It betokens a hope that before the Armageddon, they will both be open again in all their antique splendour. Meanwhile, this delightfully informative and illustrated recollection - assembled and written with care for detail and perspective - will whet the anticipation. Four authors have diligently researched the history of the public houses in these two London boroughs and unearthed both some splendid illustrations and remarkable facts about the areas, the people and the traditions focused in the architecture and decoration that has characterised these crucially significant meeting places over the centuries but particularly the nineteenth. As Bernard Nurse makes clear in his brief window into the development of social attitudes towards alehouses, the ‘public house’ was welcomed especially as the industrial revolution gathered pace in Victorian London and working men needed fellowship, conviviality and refreshment against the pressure and exhaustion of the daily working grind.
With the modernisation of transport and the railways, Dulwich and Herne Hill were increasingly populated and thus the need for meeting places - depending upon the class of people expected to be living there - attracted entrepreneurial initiatives that would invest in meeting venues for more or less each class of resident. As Nurse makes clear, initiatives began almost back in the dark ages of the thirteenth century for the very tiny population that was to grow and grow and which soon needed a communal meeting space that provided an alternative to the church. Traditions about behaviour in public were, of course, influenced and even regulated by the local leadership with powers to control consumption of alcohol and a good deal more where necessary!
This neat and modest document betokens a huge endeavour in the investigating of local archives and especially illustrations and photographs. It is a window into social change and the arguably cavalier attitude by planners, local architects and others who might have taken more care to protect the architectural traditions and styles that so many public houses embody but which were abused in the service of commerce and profit as the areas expanded. The cartoons and photographs, from yesteryear and at present, show so poignantly how crucially important these meeting places had become by the mid-eighteenth century. Some forty public houses are explored - alas, some no more and others doing well. Helpfully, there is a map showing the locations of each perhaps giving the impression that this corner of South East London indulged - or better - enjoyed prolific consumption of alcohol providing an enviable return for the landlords who in so many cases, attractively enhanced their premises.
These few pages are packed with intricate detail about the public houses and the people that frequented them; and those who overdid it and found themselves in trouble. We learn for example that beer consumption doubled between the 1850’s and 1870’s of course, resulting from increased efficiency in production, transport and distribution. Pubs reflected social mores, so dress codes were rigorously maintained even if they weren’t written down. These took their cue from the smarter London Clubs and their very well-established rules both written and assumed. Class and income were obvious indices to the development of styles of meeting places, in a similar fashion to the development of non-conformist church building; clientele and class were two sides of the same coin. This research is a tribute to the authors’ persistence and commitment in winkling out cartoons, illustrations and photographs of sites then and now so eliciting consternation that alterations and demolition were so aesthetically pitiless; tragedy in some cases when buildings were abused or demolished. WW2 took its toll as did the need for more housing; pubs in the wrong places were pulled down taking their secrets with them. But not all, as the Shakespeare Road ‘Criterion’ shows: demolished in 1936, it housed one of the most notorious cases of the century: its landlord tried to murder his barmaid and was eventually given ten years. It all makes riveting reading!
Altogether a fascinating journey through time and space. The authors have brilliantly amassed just over one hundred illustrations for their one hundred and twenty-eight pages. It is social history in great style: precise details with matching, mostly period photographs that together bring their text alive. Readers will be fascinated by what they might recognise in their neck of the woods, as present or sadly no longer. In Dulwich, the ‘Crown’ later united with the ‘Greyhound’ made sure that the right patrons would be supporting their ‘Select’ Garden Party in July 1884 at their ‘Sylvan Retreat’ no less! Thus we hope that when it opens after restoration, they will come from far and wide to retreat in a due Sylvan style; albeit the forest has somewhat retreated but the population expanded. The beer now arrives in aluminum rather than wood.
‘The Pubs of Dulwich and Herne Hill’ by Brunton, Marsh, McInnes and Walters. Published by The Dulwich & Herne Hill Societies, 2016. pp.128: 30 x Colour + 70 b/w prints. £9.50 (plus p&p). Online ordering: hernehillsociety.org.uk
The Pubs of Dulwich and Herne Hill
by Brunton, Marsh, McInnes and Walters.