Wednesday, 10 October 2007

The London pub trade in 1897

I thought that you might be interested in this transcript of an interview conducted by sociologist Charles Booth. It provides fascinating insights into the workings of the pub trade in London in the late 19th century.

5th October (1897)
Mr. Bramham. Surveyor and Valuer to the Assessment Committee of the Hackney Union.

During the last 35 years houses have gone up enormously in value. It began by the loan of one million made to the Cannon Brewery by Mr. McCalmont. With this money the brewery set to tie houses. The brewers looked on without minding until they found that their trade was being touched and affected irrecoverably. Then they set to work to buy also. Prices went up with a run. Then came the Death Duties act and increased difficulties about the subdivision of property held by partners jointly for the purposes of taxation. So that brewers found themselves at the same time wanting more money and a simpler method of recognizing their own personal property.

They turned their businesses into Companies in consequence.

Mr. Bramham gave as an example a public house in the parish of St. John´s Hackney. In 1892 this house with a lease of 49 years at a rental of £105 per annum was bought for £9500.

In 1895 £8,700 was stated to Mr. Bramham as the price that had been paid for it.

This year 1897. It has been resold for 23,000.

Another house he mentioned as being sold in 1895 for £20,000 and resold this year for £32,000 in addition to which the buyer paid £4,000 in its redecoration and internal alteration. These are only two out of many instances Mr Bramham could give.

Public houses meet a real want: by some they are needed as a refreshment house, by others as a club, by others as a place of business. The `poney` glass or small half pint glass is the outcome of the use of public houses as places of business. Come and have something is the regular prelude to doing business with some people. Neither side wants to drink much but they want an office. They ask for a poney glass, they get their apology for drink and they get their office. the publican charges the same for a `poney` as for an ordinary half pint and so recoups himself for wear and tear of premises.

One man may not by law hold more than one license, but one man very often is the real proprietor of several houses. But the license is issued in the name of the manager or of his wife or his son.

He confirmed the evidence of others in saying that all classes became publicans and that the best were found in the largest houses and that one man who managed two houses well was more likely to see that 3 or four were well kept. He thought the publican as a rule was a little above the generality of his customers socially but at once gave the instance of a man who found his clientele too rough for him, wanted to get men of his own grade into the house as customers and straightway proceeded to make things very uncomfortable for those below it. At the same time the higher the class of trade the more profitable the business.

The number of licensed houses is undoubtedly very large but "they must meet a want otherwise they would fail". Said there were two policies that might be pursued. Either the number of houses should be increased and very great strictness be used with regard to them or they should be decreased by making several houses in one district combine to buy out a few recouping themselves in so doing by the increased trade that would result. In the first instance you would bring down prices a be able to regulate the rate at which they fell by the rate at which you granted the increase. In the second you would increase the the value of those that remained but at the same time reduce the number of temptations to drink. Some will hesitate to go at all when it is a question of going a hundred yards further.

Wet weather is the worst for drink. Especially wet Mondays and Tuesdays, when working men will make their wives give back to them some of the money they have given them for housekeeping.

With regard to the police - Any policeman who looks as if he would like it is sure to get it, "there can be no question about that". Doubts if it amounts to very much but it would be better if it were not done. Publicans do it wherever they can because they know they will get help in turning out drunken men more easily if they do. A man who makes a noise drives away trade, therefore the publican is only too anxious to get rid of him. A policeman who takes drink is more likely to be near and to come quickly if he is called. "Well at any rate the publicans think so."

I was shocked to see the prices paid for London pubs in the 1890's. £20,000 or £30,000 was a huge sum of money in those days. With beer at just 2d a pint (so £1 = 120 pints) it's hard to see how breweries could get a reasonable return on their capital. This is the period when licensing authorities were starting to actively reduce the number of pub licenses issued. The result was panic buying by the breweries which greatly inflated the price of pubs. Breweries that spent too much later got into financial difficulties.

I can understand the attraction of the pub on a wet Monday. Though there's no way I would get any housekeeping money back off my wife.

Paying the local policeman or giving him free drinks appears to have been standard practice for landlords. It comes up repeatedly in Booth's interviews with publicans. Strangely, the policemen he talked to denied that it happened. Who do you believe?


Stonch said...

Interesting. So the suggestion is that the Cannon Brewery (which one? the one on St John St?) was the first to tie pubs to it in London. Is that really true?

Also interesting to see that brewers incorporated companies to hold their now substantial properties as a result of death duties. I'd never really thought about that, but it makes sense. I imagine the same applied to lots of other businesses too. Thanks Ron.

Ron Pattinson said...

Stonch, London breweries had some tied houses much earlier. Whitbread already owned pubs in the 18th century. But it was a tiny minority of the pubs they supplied. I seem to remember one of the documents I looked at in the archives listed the freeholds and leaseholds they owned. It wasn't more than a few dozen pubs in total, at a time when they supllied hundreds.

When new licences were easy to obtain, breweries didn't have such a need to own their outlets.

I wouldn't have ever thought that death duties would have had this effect. It's strange now to think of businesses as big as Whitbread or Barclay Perkins being operated as partnerships. These arrangements were quite unstable, with partners often changing. Whitbread was a whol series of partnerships in the 18th and 19th centuries, with the only constant factor being the presence of at least one member of the Whitbread family. Most of the large London breweries became limited companies in the last couple of decades of the 1800's.

GenX at 40 said...

I understand from me wee old faither that Wednesdays are still a big drinking night out in his town of Greenock because that was payday in the shipyards of the early 1900s and farther back. That sort of pay packet timing may also be a reason why getting money back from the wife on Monday and Tuesday was required.


Ron Pattinson said...

genx, I had wondered why they would have to ask for money back on Monday or Tuesday. That sounds like a pretty good explanation.

Stonch said...

Indeed, Wednesday is still commonly payday in Britain.

GenX at 40 said...

So one you go, Stonch. Go check out the Wednesday night scene in Grrrrennnocchhchchk.

Stonch said...

no thanks

i am a delicate flower!

GenX at 40 said...

You are a head-butt 'fraidy-cat.