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In the Pub
Like any leisure-based industry, the pub trade has always been subject to pressure from its controlling interests to move with the times and exploit prevailing fashion, for the perception is that this is what is required to attract customers. That principle has always been applied with ruthless efficiency, allowing no place for sentiment.
The result is that the majority of pubs dating from the the Victorian era or earlier will have have undergone a series of transformations over the years. Nearly all still retain their original external architecture, but in most the interior design will have been re-modelled and updated a number of times. In some cases this has been done sympathetically, seeking to preserve where possible some of the original decorative fixtures and fittings, such as etched or cut-glass windows and mirrors. In others, there has been what can only be described as wholesale vandalism, where everything has been ripped out discarded, only for that process to be repeated a few years down the line when a new owner has taken over with a different vision as to what will draw in the punters.
In addition, innovations in dispense technology - not only relating to beer, but also to wine, spirits and soft drinks - combined with the demands of modern food safety legislation, means that bar fittings and dispense apparatus generally enjoy only a relatively limited lifespan, whilst the bar upon which they are mounted may have been in place for a century or more.
It is therefore rare indeed to find a pub that has managed to retain not only its original interior, but also its original bar dispense equipment. Of course, gin, whisky, brandy and rum are longer served from large china spirit barrels having the names of their contents emblazoned in gilt, although those items may still occasionally be seen serving a purely decorative function. However there are a few pubs still that employ their original beer engines for beer dispense, or have at least kept them as display items where they are no longer viable for practical use.
Listed below are just a few of these. If you know of any others do email me with details, including photos if possible, and I will add them to this page.
Beer engines at the Nag's Head
The Nag's Head, Belgravia
The Nag's Head, 53 Kinnerton St, Belgravia, London, SW1X 8ED. Tel: 020 7235 1135, is one of the few pubs left in London, or indeed anywhere else, I know of that is still serving beer from its original bank of Victorian beer engines, with their magnificent porcelain handles manufactured by the Chelsea factory. The whole pub is a period gem, where mobile phones are banned, and a customer might well be forgiven for thinking that they had entered a time warp and had been deposited back in the 19th century. It is well worth a visit.
Note the similarity in the handles' colour and decoration to that of no. 27 in my catalogue (pictured above right), although their profile and size are different
The Tickell Arms, Whittlesford
Refurbished and reopened in 2012 after having been closed for over two years, the new owners of The Tickell Arms, Whittlesford, Cambridge, wanted to preserve as many of its original features as possible. Whilst they were unable to restore the original beer engines to working condition, they have retained the pump handles as a centre-piece in the bar area.
The design of the beer pump handle in the centre is identical to that of nos 10 & 11 in my catalogue (pictured above). The decorative patterns of the other two are new to me.
Photo courtesy of Sian Townsend (bonewhitechina.blogspot.co.uk)
The George Inn, Southwark
The George Inn, 77 Borough High St, London SE1 1NH, is Grade 1 listed and owned by The National Trust. It is the last surviving example of a galleried coaching inn in London, having been rebuilt in 1676 after a major fire in Southwark.
The George has a 19th century 4-motion "cash-register" design beer engine. It has a mahogany casing with a mirrored backplate bearing the name "SOUTH, 21 George Strt, Blackfriars", ebony and ivory-topped handles, and pewter spouts. Although no longer in use (although it was at least up until the 1970s), the engine is still visible at the back of the small servery. The George features in CAMRA's National Inventory of Historic Pub Interiors Part Two - click here to visit their web-page. It includes a close-up photograph of its historic beer engine, which is reproduced below:
Photo courtesy of CAMRA & Michael Slaughter LRPS
The Old Crown, Kelston
The Old Crown, Bath Road, Kelston, Somerset, BA1 9AQ, is a late 18th century coaching inn with flagstone floors and open fires, and retains two bars that have changed little over time. It is believed to be the only pub in the whole of the UK still using its original 4-motion "cash register" hand pumps to dispense beer on a daily basis. The Old Crown features in CAMRA's National Inventory of Historic Pub Interiors - click here to visit their web-page. It includes a close-up photograph of its beer engine, which is reproduced below:
Photo courtesy of CAMRA & Michael Slaughter LRPS
Note that the brass stop-cock taps are later replacements for the original brass or pewter spouts.
The Freed Man, Walmer
This is a new micropub which opened in January 2016 in Walmer, Kent, CT14 7NX in what was formerly the Sub-Post Office in Dover Road. Its name reflects the fact that its owner is now free of tie. Cask ales are served through an old 4-motion "cash-register" beer engine, apparently sourced on eBay, which has since been restored and refurbished to modern dispense standards.