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Types of heritage pubs

Rural time-warps

Once upon a time most country pubs were very simple affairs, often little more than a room in someone's house where beer (or cider in some regions) was sold. There are still a handful left but, sadly, they have been going rapidly over the past few decades. You can experience them at the Sun, Leintwardine, Herefordshire; the Kings Head, Laxfield, Suffolk; the Bridge, Topsham, Devon, the Luppitt Inn, Devon; the Red Lion, Ampney St Peter, Gloucestershire; and the Fiddichside Inn, Craigellachie, Moray (Grampian), for example.

Sun, Leintwardine, Herefordshire - Parlour
Sun, Leintwardine, Herefordshire - Parlour

Elsewhere you can also find traces of such basic country pubs in premises that have expanded to create viable businesses. The old, small historic core has been carefully preserved at, for instance, the Drewe Arms, Drewsteignton, Devon; the Cross Keys, Selattyn, Shropshire; the Five Mile House, Duntisbourne Abbots, Gloucestershire; the Fox, Ysceifiog, Flintshire (North-East Wales); and the Barley Mow, Kirk Ireton, Derbyshire.

Kings Head, Laxfield, Suffolk
Kings Head, Laxfield, Suffolk

Some of the pubs were country inns that became public houses no longer offering accommodation. The Bridge Inn, Topsham is an example and, due to its long family ownership, is one of the least altered pubs in the whole country. It still has a small bar called the 'Inner Sanctum' that can only be visited by invitation.

Bridge, Topsham, Devon - Inner Sanctum
Bridge, Topsham, Devon - Inner Sanctum

Back-street locals

Just as country pubs were a focus of rural life, so basic back-street locals often formed the heart of working class urban communities. Typically they have a public bar (where the counter is found) and one or more 'better' rooms where the drink used to cost a little more. Few remain much as they did a century ago but you can still enjoy the original character of such pubs at Circus Tavern, Manchester; the Turf Tavern, Bloxwich, West Midlands; the Vine, Tunstall, Staffordshire; the Oxford Bar, Edinburgh; and the Railway, Altrincham, Greater Manchester.

Circus Tavern, Manchester
Circus Tavern, Manchester

Cathedrals

The 'golden age' of pub building in the UK was around 1900. Pubs were then having to compete as never before for people's disposable cash against attractions like organised sports, varied theatrical entertainments (and soon the cinema), excursions, and – quite new for the working classes – holidays by the sea. The temperance movement had been active since the early Victorian period campaigning against the evils of drink and the places where it was consumed: if pubs couldn't all be closed, they ought to be reduced in number and improved. And the brewers were the people to do it! They were busy buying up pubs to tie up the supply and spent huge amounts in making them more attractive places to drink.

The most magnificent pubs from the late Victorian and early Edwardian pub-building boom are the Philharmonic and also the Vines in Liverpool, and the Crown Bar, Belfast. Superb examples can be found in central London at the Princess Louise, Holborn, and the Argyll Arms right by Oxford Circus tube station. Leeds has the Garden Gate; Birmingham the Bartons Arms; Edinburgh the Café Royal; Glasgow the Horseshoe Bar; and Cardiff the Golden Cross.

Philharmonic, Liverpool, Merseyside - front bar
Philharmonic, Liverpool, Merseyside - front bar

The Horseshoe Bar, Glasgow - an ornate late Victorian interior with the second longest bar counter: the longest is at the Falcon, Clapham Junction, London.

Horseshoe Bar, Glasgow - island bar
Horseshoe Bar, Glasgow - Island Bar

Cathedrals (continued)

The Golden Cross, Cardiff - the most spectacular pub interior in Wales.

Golden Cross, Cardiff - ceramic bar counter
Golden Cross, Cardiff - ceramic bar counter

Equally opulent, but in the very different architectural style is the Black Friar, in London, with its uniquely decorated Arts and Crafts interior

Black Friar, London - Arched Room
Black Friar, London - Arched Room

Between the Wars

The campaign to improve pubs that started under the Victorians continued after the First World War. The idea was 'fewer and better' – hence massive pubs in the suburbs which served a wide area and offered a range of facilities in addition to drink. There were sports facilities, meeting rooms, even gardens for the kids to play in. Women were welcomed. Good examples are the Bleeding Wolf, Scholar Green, Cheshire; the Margaret Catchpole, Ipswich; the Hand & Heart, Peterborough and the Eastbrook, Dagenham, London.

Bleeding Wolf, Scholar Green, Cheshire - Oak Room
Bleeding Wolf, Scholar Green, Cheshire - Oak Room

Of course, not all pubs went up on such a scale and places where you will find more modest, unspoilt establishments are the Vine, Wednesfield, West Midlands; and the Clep, Dundee.

But there was also a nostalgic streak behind all this and 'Brewers' Tudor' – a romantic evocation of the past was popular: grandiose examples can be visited at the Cittie of Yorke, Holborn, London; the King & Queen, Brighton; and the Five Ways, Nottingham.

King & Queen, Brighton
King & Queen, Brighton

By way of contrast, a particular pleasure of inter-war pubs is the occasional appearance of the sleek lines of Art Deco architecture and fittings. Fine examples can be found at the Steps Bar, Glasgow; Portland Arms, Shettleston, also Glasgow.

Modern Times

After the devastating economic effects of World War Two, pub-building did not get going again until the mid-1950s. Planning remained traditional in the sense that plans involved multiple rooms but materials were, necessarily, cheap and undistinguished while designs often featured sharp, angular shapes. Most early post-war pubs have been considerably altered in recent decades and only three nationally important historic pub interiors are still intact, see: Laurieston Bar, Glasgow; the Turnpike, Withington, Manchester.

Laurieston Bar, Glasgow
Laurieston Bar, Glasgow

Geographical Variation

As with most building types, you can find differences in pub styles from region to region. But the most conspicuous differences lie between England and Wales on one hand and Scotland and Northern Ireland on the other. As a broad generalisation pubs in the former tend to be more conspicuous visually and were multi-roomed, whereas in the latter they are often almost indistinguishable from ordinary shops, and a single bar was quite common (but sometimes with small sitting rooms or booths leading off). The long spirit-drinking tradition in Scotland and Northern Ireland has ensured the survival of numerous spirit casks in gantries (back-fittings) at the back of many a servery, such as at the Old Toll Bar, Glasgow; Bennet's Bar, Edinburgh in Scotland and Blake's Bar, Enniskillen, County Fermanagh and Central Bar, Irvinestown, County Fermanagh in Northern Ireland.

Toll Bar, Glasgow
Toll Bar, Glasgow