John Coulter has brought together a wealth of information about past and present Norwood public houses, hotels and beer houses. ‘Mine Host’ figures as a character in many books, and Coulter usefully produces an index of them and their establishments. Some were grand places - the original Beulah Spa for example - and others were nothing more than a short-lived ground floor room with beer barrels serving both as tables and seats, and of course as containers for beer. No doubt the latter is where the term ‘spit and sawdust’ originated. A beer house did not, apparently, need a full licence, and hence their proliferation at the time. Some were so short-lived that scarcely any record of them has survived.
A drunkard is said to have designed Britain’s roads, and no doubt there many staggering out of the plethora of hostelries in Victorian times. So many in fact that temperance movements flourished, and ‘taking the pledge’ was widely promoted. Some rows of houses built at that time were called ‘Temperance Terrace’, presumably to make them respectable and desirable. William Booth and the Salvation Army must have represented a considerable threat to the pub industry. Nevertheless, after a hard day’s manual work a man was entitled to have his pint to settle the dust of his occupation, and possibly another for the road home. Beer, beer, glorious beer is still a popular refrain in some places. It even warded off cholera during outbreaks in the East End. An old story, none the worse for being repeated, is that in a brewery a worker fell into a vat of beer, and it took him an hour and a half to get out! Another was that he drowned, but the undertakers could not take the smile from his face!
The history of pubs is often reflected in their names, and in the signboards hanging outside. Strangely, the index of pubs in Norwood does not include a ‘Bull & Bush’. It might have been expected that some enterprising landlord would have chosen it to encourage those of his customers who liked to bawl out the refrain after a few jars! But experience in recent years shown that renaming pubs can be unpopular among those using them. Names like ‘The Pickled Newt’ and ‘The Bluebottle’ have not taken root, and even O’Neills in Upper Norwood has reverted to ‘The White Hart’, a name that goes back a very long way in the history of the area.
South Norwood seems to have more than its share of pubs, and although the Goat House has now gone the William Stanley has arrived to make up the number. The arrival of the railway was well recorded by The Signal (now the Portmanor) and The Railway Hotel (now The Cherry Trees), and a royal marriage was commemorated by The Alliance. The Ship and The Jolly Sailor recorded the earlier arrival of the Croydon Canal, and still do. The Albion, which shows a large warship under sail, commemorates the participation of HMS Albion in the siege of Sevastopol in 1854 - the pub was built shortly afterwards. Mr Coulter records that for quite a long time the Jolly Sailor was known as The Royal Sailor, but it then recovered the jolliness shown on its signboard!
It is said that churches, banks and pubs produced the only noteworthy and well-designed buildings in otherwise fairly plain high streets. Coulter’s photographs of pubs past and present illustrate that view, as least as far as pubs are concerned. The current regrettable spate of pub closures and demolition is caused not so much by any lack of their popularity as places to eat, drink and relax, but by a relentless drive for more and more blocks of flats. The pubs of today are no longer ’spit & sawdust’ drinking dens but well-equipped centres of social life offering restaurant facilities. This book does well to record them at this point in time, and hopefully will help to create awareness of their vital contribution to community life and activity.
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