Interior image of The public bar of the Festival Inn, designed by the Truman’s Brewery architect, looking towards the darts alcove.
Architecture Listed places Post-War Architecture

10 of England’s Best Post-War Pubs

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.

More public houses were built in 1945-1985 than in any other period in English history, yet pubs of these years are now highly threatened.

Here, in date order, are ten great pubs from the ‘golden age’ of post-war pub building.

1. The Festival Inn, Poplar, London

The Festival Inn was the earliest major post-war pub in England.

Exterior of The Festival Inn, designed by Frederick Gibberd along with the market buildings of the Lansbury Estate.
The Festival Inn was designed by Frederick Gibberd, along with the market buildings of the Lansbury Estate. © Historic England Archive DP170360.

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 of Truman’s Brewery, the Festival Inn survives largely unchanged and was listed Grade II in 2017.

Interior image of The public bar of the Festival Inn, designed by the Truman’s Brewery architect, looking towards the darts alcove.
The public bar of the Festival Inn, designed by the Truman’s Brewery architect, looking towards the darts alcove. © Historic England Archive DP170374.

2. The Never Turn Back, 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.

Exterior image of The Never Turn Back pub, a brick building with a union jack flag flying from a flag pole
The Never Turn Back, designed by Lacon’s Brewery architect A. W. Ecclestone in a form which references its seaside location and associations. Photo by Michael Slaughter LRPS.

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 at 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, 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.

Exterior image of the Samuel Whitbread Pub in 1959
A photo of 1959 showing the new and ambitious Samuel Whitbread pub, designed by Thomas P. Bennett & Son. Source: Historic England Archive.

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 into a Burger King restaurant in the 1980s.

The exterior of the Samuel Whitbread pub at night time. The lower floors have been converted into a Burger King
The exterior of the Samuel Whitbread as it exists today. The lower floors of the pub were converted into a Burger King in the 1980s. © Historic England Archive DP170398.

4. The Queen Bess, Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire

Queen Bess - lounge bar DP197422
The 1930s-style counter and panelling of the lounge bar at the Queen Bess. © Historic England Archive DP197422.

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. This theme 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, Islington, London

This small, flat-roofed Courage & Barclay-built boozer of 1960 is one of London’s best surviving post-war pubs and a typical ‘local’ of its time.

The Shakespeare’s Head in Arlington Way, Islington. London.
The interior of the Shakespeares Head, looking from the former public bar towards the former lounge bar (the dividing partition has been removed). © Historic England Archive DP170435.

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 as a single room, but many original features remain, including bar counters and panelling.

6. The Shakespeare’s Head, Southgates, Leicester

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.

6 Shakespeares Head, Leicester - exterior
The imposing three-storey exterior of the Shakespeare’s Head, in a photo taken before recent alterations. Photo by Michael Slaughter LRPS.

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.

6 Shakespeares Head, Leicester lobby bar copy
The entrance or lobby bar of the Shakespeare’s Head. These and other original fittings were removed in 2016 as part of the building’s conversion as a restaurant. Photo by Michael Slaughter LRPS.

7. The Palomino, Newmarket, Suffolk

The Palomino was named and designed to reflect the horse-racing associations of Newmarket.

7 Palomino - public bar DP171779
The themed interior of the public bar or ‘Circus Bar’ at the Palomino, with original bar counter, bar back and framed paintings. © Historic England Archive DP171779.

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.

8 Centurion - exterior DP181182
A night-time view of the Centurion, showing the expanse of windows lighting the main bar area (formerly the buttery bar) and the original life-size statue of a Roman centurion above. © Historic England Archive DP181182.

Opened in 1965, the Centurion has huge glass windows on its main floor and decorations ‘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 at Grade II in 2018.

8 Centurion - interior DP181186
The unusual counter of the lounge bar at the Centurion, finished in Formica veneer with a padded rest. © Historic England Archive DP181186.

9. The Wheatsheaf, Heather Ridge Arcade, Camberley, Surrey

The Wheatsheaf – recently listed at 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.

9 Wheatsheaf -DP181208
The slate-hung exterior of the wheel-shaped Wheatsheaf pub, with its specially designed garden in the foreground. DP181208 © Historic England

The pub was opened in 1971 and 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.

9 Wheatsheaf - inerior DP181217
Detail of the interior of the Wheatsheaf pub, showing the central brick chimney and surrounding golden-brown quarry tiling. © Historic England Archive DP181217.

10. The Crumpled Horn, Eldene Centre, Swindon, Wiltshire

10 Crumpled Horn - DP196859
The fantastical, themed exterior of the Crumpled Horn, seen from the terrace. © Historic England Archive DP196859.

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 at 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.

10 Crumpled Horn - DP196865
The interior of the Crumpled Horn. © Historic England Archive DP196865.

More great pubs

5 comments on “10 of England’s Best Post-War Pubs

  1. Reblogged this on keithbracey and commented:
    Post war Britain saw more pubs built in the country than at any other time in history……here’s a canter through 10 of the best…….@CAMRA

  2. I discovered the superb Festival Inn just yesterday, having read about it in a Xmas issue of The London Drinker. I am interested in the Festival of Britain and was therefore delighted to see an almost untouched pub interior of this period. What a pity that there were so few drinkers in it. It deserves to be better know.

  3. No pubs worth mentioning north of Leicester?

  4. What’s the furthest north the author has ever travelled? It appears to be not very far.

  5. Ian Halsall

    I worked in Swindon for 17 years so knew about the Crumpled Horn. However I have lived in Bath for 17 years and never knew about The Centurion! That’s tomorrow’s run sorted!!!

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: