London pubs (article)

“It’s the drink talking (and walking),” Victoria and Albert Museum article

We discussed the centuries-long importance of pubs to the work of Smithfield Market, opening in the very early mornings to serve the market porters, who work through the night and finish their working day when most of ours are just beginning.The present common licensing hours were adopted only from the 19th century, but in the past the opening of retail drinking places were often adapted to local patterns of work. This pub’s unusual pewter bar also led to a useful discussion of materials and their shifting meanings in drinking spaces over time, while the profusion of booths and small rooms to be found in The Fox and Anchor helped us to begin thinking about how the internal spaces of public houses were often hard to police.By offering spaces for private and public drinking, retail drinking places presented a constant tension between moderate and modest behaviour, and the potential immorality of drinkers – especially where female drinkers were concerned. A quick hop on the Thameslink took us down to The Black Friar, a gem of a pub dating to the early 20th century lined in mirrors, marble and bronze friezes, the eccentric product of a speculative bubble in public house building in the early twentieth century. The home stretch took us east to Borough High Street where a quick look into the yard of The George Inn showed us the physical form that many of the great coaching inns of the 17th and 18th centuries took, with long galleries facing onto a central courtyard which was often the site of prize fights or theatrical performances, as well as numerous other activities beyond the run of the inn’s business catering to travellers and drinkers.’Club’ rooms, like the one we finished up in, were developed in the late eighteenth century to cater to the many clubs and societies which sprang up in this period amongst both the working and the middle classes, and were often very well fitted up. The attraction, for me, of studying the history and material culture of drinking spaces is the way that, as the tour and this post show, it opens up the city itself as an archive: one that provides evidence for a vast period of time and will, I hope, inspire numerous ‘Material-Culture-of-the-Tavern’ studies to come

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