More public houses were built in the years 1945-1985 than in any other period in English history, yet pubs of these years are now highly threatened.
Dr Emily Cole, Senior Investigator in the Historic Places Investigation Team, has been leading a project on post-war pubs since 2015, with the aim of increasing understanding and appreciation. Recently, she has been responsible for proposing a group of pubs for listing, and five buildings have been successfully protected.
Here, Emily selects ten of her favourite pubs from across the ‘golden age’ of post-war pub building, in date order.
1. The Festival Inn, Grundy Street, Poplar, London
The Festival Inn was the earliest major post-war pub in England. It opened in May 1951, and formed part of the Live Architecture Exhibition of the Festival of Britain. It was also a focal point in the London County Council’s Lansbury Estate. With an exterior by Frederick Gibberd and an interior by R. W. Stoddart, architect to Truman’s Brewery, the Festival Inn survives largely unchanged and was listed grade II in 2017.
2. The Never Turn Back, Manor Road, Caister-on-Sea, Norfolk
Nestled among sand dunes in this holiday resort is the Never Turn Back, a pub named in honour of the Caister lifeboat tragedy of 1901. This claimed the lives of nine lifeboatmen, who prided themselves on ‘never turning back’ from a vessel in distress. The pub, opened in 1957 and listed grade II in 2018, was designed by Lacon’s Brewery architect A. W. Ecclestone. It has an unusual exterior, with a two-storey tower resembling a lookout or ship’s wheelhouse and decoration in local materials.
3. The Samuel Whitbread, Leicester Square, Westminster, London
This building sums up everything typical of post-war pubs in city centres – it was large, ambitious and lavishly fitted out, but did not last as a pub for more than 20 years. The Samuel Whitbread, opened in 1958 in London’s West End, was the ‘flagship’ pub for Whitbread’s Brewery. With a curved glass frontage, the pub had public rooms on four storeys. It closed and was converted as a Burger King restaurant in the 1980s.
4. The Queen Bess, Derwent Road, Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire
Constructed for Samuel Smith’s Brewery, this pub survives almost completely as built in 1959 – a fact recognised by its listing at grade II in 2018. The Queen Bess was named after a record-breaking blast furnace at the nearby Appleby-Frodingham steelworks, and this theme was continued into its interior – the pig iron emblem appears, for instance, on the public bar’s fireplace. Other rooms are the lounge, the ‘Queen’s Bar’ or concert room and the off-sales shop (no longer in use).
5. The Shakespeares Head, Arlington Way, Islington, London
This small, flat-roofed Courage & Barclay-built boozer of 1960 is one of the best surviving post-war pubs in London and a typical ‘local’ of its time. It is next to Sadler’s Wells Theatre – the pub’s two bars were originally named the Gallery Bar (public bar) and Ballerina Bar (lounge bar). These have now been opened up as a single room, but many original features remain, including bar counters and panelling.
6. The Shakespeare’s Head, Southgates, Leicester, Leicestershire
The Shakespeare’s Head – opened in 1963 by Shipstone’s Brewery – is a pub of an unusual horseshoe-shaped design, facing the city ring road. It survives well externally, but its interior presents a sad though typical story among post-war pubs. Until 2016, it survived almost entirely intact, with its original fittings, but these were stripped out as part of its conversion to a restaurant.
7. The Palomino, Valley Way, Newmarket, Suffolk
The Palomino was named and designed to reflect the horse-racing associations of Newmarket. It was constructed by Tollemache & Cobbold Breweries of Ipswich, and opened on 22 November 1963 – the day of President Kennedy’s assassination. Although the pub has a conventional exterior, it is notable in being a ‘time warp’ inside, with original features including the themed decoration of the ‘Circus Bar’ (public bar). The pub’s still-functioning off-licence is an extremely rare survival.
8. The Centurion, Poolemead Road, Twerton, Bath, Somerset
A sloped site on the Twerton Estate provided a perfect opportunity for West Country Breweries to design a dramatic pub. Opened in 1965, the Centurion has huge glass windows on its main floor, and decoration ‘themed’ around Roman Bath. The pub has changed little since it was built, retaining its separate bars and fittings including counters, a fragment of Roman mosaic flooring and a statuette of Julius Caesar. It was listed grade II in 2018.
9. The Wheatsheaf, Heather Ridge Arcade, Camberley, Surrey
The Wheatsheaf – recently listed grade II – is one of the most unusual pubs built in post-war England and reflects the skill of its architects, John and Sylvia Reid. Opened in 1971, the pub was constructed to a ten-sided wheel-shaped plan, with a soaring single-bar interior arranged around a central brick chimney. Whilst it was an entirely modern conception, the Reids drew their inspiration from Victorian pubs, creating as many cosy corners as possible.
10. The Crumpled Horn, Eldene Centre, Swindon, Wiltshire
Like the Wheatsheaf, the Crumpled Horn is a fantastical design by a talented and unconventional architect – in this case, Roy Wilson-Smith – and has also been recently listed grade II. Opened in 1975, it was one of a few Watney Mann pubs inspired by the nursery rhyme ‘The House that Jack Built’, which refers to the ‘cow with the crumpled horn’. The pub’s multi-level interior is arranged like a nautilus shell, and retains its exposed brickwork and timber rafters.